Chapter 4: Do the right thing!

A colleague of mine had a recent experience that was unpleasant with a local community regarding a child’s participation in a recreation activity sponsored by the municipality.

The child was essentially bullied for the two sessions attended out of ten, I think.  When the situation that occurred was brought to the attention of the employee that supervised the program, the investigation indicated that the child had in fact been bullied.  The actual on-site leader pretty much admitted to seeing it.

Based on what happened, they obviously didn’t want the child to continue and asked for a refund of the pre-paid class fees.

What made this interesting to me, and for me to share it with you, is that the people in charge were only willing to refund the BALANCE of the program fees, not the fees for the two sessions in which the child was bullied.  Because he participated in those two sessions, they were not entitled to refund of those classes by policy.

Having spent the better part of my professional life in public parks and recreation, I was kind of dumbfounded.  I suggested that a call be made to the agency head.  Well, that’s what the policy is, and that person also defended the decision not to refund the two “bully” sessions.

Even though this had not a thing to do with me, I was starting to get angry.  What kind of values does this agency promote?  What leadership do they model?  How can employees not care?  No one even asked if the child was ok!

But the sad part, and hopefully this is a learning experience for them someday, is that the same thing that happened to me many years ago.  I was a relatively new Parks and Recreation Superintendent.  I received a letter about a young man who needed to be taken from one of our soccer fields by ambulance.  The park was so busy, the parent said that the ambulance had a difficult time getting into the park, although they managed to safely get to him and get him out.

I was so concerned about defending the staff on site, and how they ran their program that I lost sight of the fact that the kid was hurt, and the parent was alerting me to a potentially dangerous situation.  So being the professional I am, I wrote a very detailed letter back outlining everything we did right.  And never once did I ask how his son was.  I was so wrapped up in being right I lost sight of what the issue was.

Talk about being a jerk!  

I used to teach a leadership course to what we called “rising stars” when I was the Parks Commissioner for Westchester County, and the lesson that I tried to impart was based partially on my poor judgement in the incident above and my efforts to never do that again.

In most places that you work, you almost never get in trouble or reprimanded for upholding the rules.  But sometimes that’s not what you should do.  

“Managers (administrators, employees) do things right, LEADERS do the right thing.”

Maybe it might take you out of your comfort zone.  Now you must defend a decision that you made that is not necessarily in keeping with what the policy is.  

But I contend that makes you a much more valuable employee and someone who adds to the positive culture of service and getting the job done with the best interest of the employer in mind.

If you do things for the right reasons, overwhelmingly both customers and supervisors will see that you have the right stuff.

My fervent hope is that the people who were more concerned about doing things right with the refund policy enforcement, will someday learn that doing the right thing is much more rewarding and leads to personal and professional growth.  

Be a leader!

Catch you next month.  Get out and enjoy a park near you!

Meet the Author
Joe Stout is the former Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. In that capacity, Joe oversaw an operating budget of $55 million and a capital budget of $250 million. He supervised a staff of more than 340 annual employees, over 1,000 summer staff, and the operation of more than 44 parks encompassing over 18,000 acres of parkland. Read more about Joe >