Leadership integrity hits a new low

I am sure you have all read this week of the 17 year old youth police commissioner who after just one day of service was shown to be shockingly prejudiced against so many parts of the society she has been appointed to represent.

I am less interested in whether Paris Brown ultimately keeps her job, but my most pressing question is whether anyone who has publicly expressed such homophobic and racist views and who is so cavalier about posting about their drug, drinking and sex habits, can ever successfully hold a leadership position. After all, homophobia, racism and drug taking are all legislated against in our society added to which, the message during recent turbulent years has been pretty consistent: Our leaders need to demonstrate integrity.

It would appear that her bosses believe that because she is 17 and exceedingly upset and remorseful, that she should be forgiven. I however, believe that whatever age you are, that you do not one day attack a whole range of people in society but the next day, when a salary is now at stake, suggest that your attitude has changed to the extent that you are fit to represent those very same people.

The reality is that prejudices and biases are often very deep rooted and seldom change overnight and Paris Brown clearly thought that those closest to her (i.e. her Twitter followers) agreed with, or found funny, her postings. This has to make you wonder how many in her circle of influence are of an ethnic minority, sexuality, religion etc. different to her own. For if they are not, how can she have been appointed to represent all youth?

I understand that it is not possible to recruit someone with absolutely no biases however, what employers can do is recruit people who are not extreme or overtly inconsiderate in their views and what is essential of course, is that those you recruit are able to demonstrate a mature attitude and judgement. You have to wonder about the seriousness of the discussions that took place with Paris Brown before her appointment and whether they explored any of her personal views about society.

There is also of course the issue of the damage she has done to the Police Force that recruited her. As well as the adverse publicity, they have now spent several days fire fighting this issue instead of doing the policing job they are paid to do.

It also occurs to me is that if this was a private sector employer, I would expect her to have been suspended pending an investigation into whether she has brought the company’s name into disrepute and should therefore be sacked. Perhaps the fact that the person who appointed her has chosen to pay her £5,000 from her own pocket has muddied the waters in terms of how she should now be managed. When does a business appointment start to feel more akin to a personal appointment?

And finally, I would question that we consider different standards of leadership behaviour and integrity acceptable at different ages. We do after all have legislation that requires employers not to discriminate on grounds of age, so surely we need one standard of acceptable behaviour and integrity for our leaders – whatever their age.

From the whole Paris Brown mess so far, I think the lessons for employers are:

  • Checking twitter and other social media feeds before appointment may be a sensible option for certain appointments, particularly leadership appointments
  • For leadership positions, ask questions of candidates to ascertain their integrity and also their emotional maturity and ability to demonstrate judgement. These are as important in today’s society as them having the right experience for the role.
  • Ensure that those placing people in positions, are not the same people who would make decisions about their future employment – should performance management ever be necessary. This just creates conflict and seldom do any of us like to admit to having made a wrong appointment.

And the lessons for youngsters are:

  • Know that you can ruin your career before you even leave school if you do not heed warnings about the dangers of social media and what you should and should not post online.
  • Creating a personal brand as a youngster is great, but remember that that personal brand will stay with you into adulthood.
  • Know that age discrimination legislation works both ways – it can be used to protect you from discrimination at the start of your career, but equally it will require employers to treat you in the same way as any other employee.

I am sure many of you will have thoughts on this topic as it has ignited debate across the UK. All comments and views always welcome.

Equally, if any of you would welcome input or support with recruitment policies and practices, please do get in touch. Jaluch also supports numerous organisations with their L&D needs such as with diversity and inclusion or unconscious bias training. We would love to talk to you about your requirements.

2 replies added

  1. Yolanda Cline 3 May, 2013 Reply

    Paris Brown, 17, wrote violent, racist and anti-gay comments on her feed before she became the first youth PCC for Kent to represent young people’s views on policing.

  2. Denis G. Rodriquez 18 June, 2013 Reply

    She said the teenager was one of 164 applicants for the job, intended to provide young people’s views on policing, and she was the best one and a “confident and articulate woman”.

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