The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

April 18, 2012

The Poor Saps Who Work for the GSA

By Steve Motenko

Outraged about the GSA scandal?  If so, you’re focused, I’d bet, on the idiots who created this mess.  Oh, the stupidity! 

But what about the 12,000 rank-and-file GSA employees who had nothing to do with the conference?  Forever, they’ll be tainted.  (Well, until the public forgets about the whole thing, anyway – which’ll likely be next Tuesday.)

Imagine you work for the GSA.  Imagine – okay, just consider it a thought experiment if you can’t wrap your mind around it as reality – that you’re a hard worker, a caring, efficient employee, who happens to be working for the feds because you actually think government can serve a useful function.  You’re not here to rape taxpayers.  You have a work ethic.  You have a sense of responsibility to the public trust.

And then your leaders go and pull this kind of unmitigated crap.   

What do you do?  Hope no one ever finds out who your employer is?  Tell everyone you actually work for a different GSA?  the Geological Sciences Association?

Here’s what you do:

  • You hold your head high and tell people what a mess the government would be in if there were no GSA.
  • You go to work every day focused on the service you’re providing to your customers – whoever they may be.
  • You challenge anyone prone to throwing out the baby with the bathwater – challenge them not to indict an entire federal agency based on the moronic behavior of a few so-called leaders.
  • You bring your colleagues together to ask, “What can we do to help ensure this never happens again?”  I don’t care how low your civil service rank.  Step up in some way.  Own your integrity, and the opportunity you have to take some action to manifest it – including the greater power in numbers. 
  • You instigate ethical conversations in your corner of the enterprise.  When The Boeing Company was riddled with a series of humiliating, very public, and nearly disastrous ethical bombs some years ago, this huge company responded by encouraging every employee at every level to step forward and initiate a conversation around perceived ethical lapses any time they felt compelled to.  No Boeing manager was allowed to squelch this employee initiative.  Boeing saw a truly open culture as the only antidote to the ethical poison that threatened to bring the company down.

In the 1960s, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in the courtyard of a New York City apartment building while, according to the New York Times, 38 neighbors watched from their windows.  Not one called the cops.

Never doubt that one person can make a difference.  If I were a GSA employee, this crazy scandal would prompt me to make a difference – in any way I can.  I’d start by recommitting to my own integrity in every interaction.  If enough GSA employees made that commitment, the agency’s reputation would weather this storm – especially with a public ever hungry for the next scandal.

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About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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