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Leadership for the 21st century, Part II
By Gene Atherton, NLECTC - Rocky Mountain - Institutions Program Manager, and Jason Heaton
Published: 10/08/2007

Bluearrow Editor’s Note: Last week, corrections veterans Gene Atherton and Jason Heaton discussed how being receptive to new and creative ideas, and being able to successfully manage and coach staff challenges are integral to successful leadership, Leadership for the 21st century - A human approach. This week, in part two of three, they emphasize how much a leader’s ability, or inability, to be sensitive, to listen, and to maintain an upbeat attitude can impact a team.

Most organizations spend a great deal of time and expense in the development and preparation of leaders. Not only is it morally wrong, but it makes bad economic sense to have high performance, “pacesetting(4)” leaders when they are not likely to provide quality services over the long term. Leaders need to see their best, long term performance only possible through a balanced life of work and over all personal health. Unhealthy conditions for leaders are not only a bad choice for leaders at a personal level, but it also negatively impacts the organization in a variety of ways. Such conditions prevent leaders from being directly involved in the maturing of the organization and from sharing the full extent of their potential to contribute.


Every successful leader is a good listener. When combined with the open ended questions described in Appreciative Inquiry(5), it is the single most valuable leadership characteristic we know.

Remember, when you are taught to be competitive, and must be good at it to get ahead in life and your profession, good listening skills are not highly valued. You are rewarded having the best answer and offering the best idea. Good leaders are typically very affable and accustomed to talking. As a result listening skills are not easily obtained.

Good listening skills open up whole new worlds and possibilities for the organization. Very often the new or most valuable information is withheld and not communicated well because people did not feel encouraged to share. Good listening can lead to long, uncomfortable silence, but soon someone will speak, and you may be hearing very valuable, and precious information for the first time. Such exchanges can be the basis of new relationships that are critical to the organization.

Successful leaders bring contagious energy and upbeat attitude to the job

It is easy to lose track of how much subordinates draw or depend upon the attitude of leadership. “In this sense, leaders who pass along bad moods are simply bad for business – and those who help pass along good moods help drive a business’s success(6)”.

If you have been an energetic leader who enjoys having fun in the process of doing business, or have worked in the presence of such leadership, you may not know how important those emotions are until they are gone.

Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. The ripple effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is awesome(7)”

A leader with a smile and a positive spin on the day, week, or year, can make a enormous difference among subordinates and the overall organization. Corrections is an example of a work environment where that characteristic is essential for survival, and for making a high performance possible.

Successful leaders are sensitive to the emotional impact of their behavior on others.

“If they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.(8)” Here are some cases in which insensitivity had a negative impact. It took eight years or so for employee X to elevate herself to the management team of an organization of several hundred employees. She was very proud to be at that level and attended her first management team meeting. As the Warden went around the table asking for comments from individual managers, she brought up an issue and suggested some strategies to resolve.

In front of the dozen or so team members, the Warden became very offensive in his response, raised his voice to a shouting level, and basically said she did not know what she was talking about. She had been warned by others of this treatment. It happened frequently, and others dreaded attending his meetings.

She was embarrassed, and learned that the benefits of leadership were not to be expected from her official leader. She needed to somehow work differently in order to do her job. Does this sound familiar? How do you think this relationship between supervisors and subordinates affects the ability to achieve the mission?

The executive director spoke to a group of new employees, he didn’t mention anything about the importance of the mission, or the virtue of public service, or the career opportunities. Instead, he specifically stated that the new recruits were only there because they couldn’t find work elsewhere and that most of them would not last in corrections.

That is the only thing staff remembered about the speech. The opportunity to inspire and recruit that discretionary investment in job performance was lost. In contrast, New Yorkers will never forget Mayor Giuliani’s courageous performance in leading New York City through its darkest days that began on September 11 (9).

He never stopped reminding people of the positive spirit and resilience of the citizens of New York City. Whether under emergency conditions, leading a meeting or project effort, or having one on one conversation, successful leaders must never forget the emotional impact of their behavior on others. If leaders are not mindful, their conduct can distract attention from the mission of corrections. That condition is a basic element of failure where ever it is found in corrections.

“Roughly 50 to 70 percent of how employees perceive their organization’s climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader.(10)”

They should hold themselves accountable, and be held accountable to a high standard of conduct in area of emotional impact on others. If you care and are uncertain, be open to ask others. “How do you think I was perceived?” No matter what the circumstances, there is no valid reason to show disrespect in your relationships with others.

Editor’s Note: Next week, Heaton and Atherton conclude with the importance of leading through the spoken word, successful mediating and other qualities needed to be an effective leader.

Jason Heaton is the senior warden for the “80 John” Wallace and Dick Ware Units located in Colorado City, and the W3 Work Camp located in San Angelo.

He began his career with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a CO in 1988 and has worked from one side of Texas to the other, along with a one-year assignment in Washington D.C. as a Correctional Program Specialist for the National Institute of Corrections. Through his work, he became interested in helping develop the future leaders of the 21st century. Heaton believes that success as a leader depends on investments and relationships with staff. He also believes that leaders have to make the time and take the opportunity to develop those individual relationships in order to make the entire organization successful.

Gene Atherton is in his 30th year of service in the criminal justice field. He has recently contracted to serve as the Institutions Program Manager for the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center.

He served 27 years for the Colorado Department of Corrections. From 1992 to 1997 he was a Security Specialist for the CODOC where his many accomplishments included developing security and emergency management policy; designing new prisons; establishing staffing analysis; and creating a system for insuring standards in security technology. In 1997, he was Warden at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, and then became Director of Prisons for the Western Region in Colorado until retirement in 2004.

Atherton is currently President of Correctional Consulting Services Group based in Florence, Colorado. For the last fifteen years Mr. Atherton has served as a technical assistance consultant and trainer for the National Institute of Corrections on a variety of topics, and co-authored Use of Force –Current Practice and Policy, Supermax Prisons: Beyond the RockM, Guidelines for the Development of a Security Program, Third Edition, and The Evolution and Development of Security Technology.

End Notes:
(4) PRIMAL LEADERSHIP-Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Boyatzis, Mckee, Harvard Business School Press, 2002., page 72
(5) The Thin Book of APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY, Sue Annis Hamm and, Thin Book Pulishing, 1996 (6) PRIMAL LEADERSHIP – Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, Harvard Business Press, 2002, page 14.
(7)“A Leadership Primer”, Lesson #12, General Colin Powell, Chairman (Ret.) Joint Chiefs of Staff. http://www.blaisdell.com/powell/
(8) PRIMAL LEADERSHIP – Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, 2002,Harvard Business Press
(9) Leadership, Rudolph W. Giuliani, 2002, Miramax Books /Hyperion, New York
(10) PRIMAL LEADERSHIP – Realizing The Power of Emotional Intelligence, Golden, Boyatzis, and McKee, 2002, Harvard Business School., page 18.

Other articles by Atherton and Heaton


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