Decision made in haste, poorly communicatedPublished 8:44pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Cedric Scott, the new Suffolk fire chief with an impressive resume of climbing the professional ladder, never standing long on a single rung, needs some help with his communication skills.
Or he could read a little Stephen Covey.
Habit 5 in Covey’s best-selling and internationally respected “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is simple but true: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Embracing this fundamental truth of good leadership might not have altered his controversial decision, after less than six months on the job and as a resident of the city, to dismantle a long and proud tradition of volunteer first responders in Suffolk. But it surely would have affected the way it was communicated, implemented and, when the proverbial poop hit the fan, defended.
As it stands, Scott created a public-relations disaster, offended a group of people who have contributed much to the well-being of their fellow citizens over the years, and spit in the eye of a tradition of volunteer service that has served this country — and communities like Suffolk — well since its founding.
Some college classroom that needs a case study in ineffective leadership and communication now has a good one in Suffolk’s decision to make the Nansemond-Suffolk Volunteer Rescue Squad a second-run organization.
This columnist assumes that the decision, made by a man of Scott’s experience and knowledge of public safety, was the correct one. It’s hard to say for sure, though, given the city’s clumsy handling of the matter, both internally and in the community.
Scott’s defenders initially told concerned City Council members to butt out, saying, preposterously, that to simply discuss the decision was a violation of the council-manager form of government.
When it was clear the matter would not go away with taxpayers, they decided that it was the council’s business after all and embarked on a series of one-on-one visits with council members to enlighten them.
Good idea. But a month too late.
Finally, to rub salt in a freshly administered wound, Scott used the forum of last week’s City Council meeting — where, just two weeks earlier, the rescue squad was deemed to be an inappropriate discussion topic — to publicly trash the volunteer organization as incompetent and unreliable.
If that were the case, and public safety has been compromised over a long period, City Hall is negligent for not having sooner informed taxpayers. If the problems are more recent and anecdotal, Scott owed the volunteer organization more time to fix them.
Assuming Scott plans to be in Suffolk for a while, he should learn the value of better communication, and of understanding before he seeks to be understood.
Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.