Leadership and…a Refuge

Protection or Protectionism?

They are different terms and when it comes to leadership, protectionism is a far easier route than protection.

I have pondered these terms at length.

Protection means to protect someone or something or to preserve from injury and harm.

Protectionism, on the other hand, isn’t just about economics, tariffs, and political posturing; in the workplace, it’s about closing off positive influences.


There’s a plethora of information out there on leadership.

Over the course several careers, I’ve read countless books on the subject, have attended numerous classes, courses, and seminars, and have had the best institutional role model on earth, US Marine Corps, give me the specs on leadership.

Yet, at the end of the day, it’s all just words…and words are cheap.

Words mean nothing. They sit there between the pages of the nicest looking handouts and booklets. They’re projected onto a large screen for even larger audiences to gawk at until their eyes glaze over—usually about half hour after arriving for said class.

All the books I’ve read and all the classes, seminars, and institutes I’ve attended…I never once had any of them teach me the wisdom of leading men and women: the subtle nuances that we as leaders do, or don’t do, that can make or break the morale in an organization.

“Truth is more caught than it is taught, ” said my mentor once.

We need more wisdom than ever before, especially since we have 5 different generations in the workforce.


No matter where I live, or visit, I always run into people who have the same complaint: I hate my job.

When I dig a little, what I find is that most either love the actual work they do or at least find it tolerable, but their supervisor or the administration as a whole is evil incarnate.


“Why is it that everyone just wants to do the bare minimum around here?” complained a peer supervisor in my last duty.

Well, that was an easy one.

People didn’t feel safe, nor appreciated, nor did they feel their voice mattered to this particular supervisor.

Getting needed gear and equipment was like pulling teeth for this particular supervisor. Yet, if a complaint was brought in from a citizen off the street, there would be high-level gossip about said employee before anyone got the courage to ask the employee what happened—by that time, the employee was already browbeaten by the administration with the looming threat of official disciplinary action.

Then there’s the matter of peers who take it upon themselves to pass judgment and condemn the actions of another employee without gaining any facts from that person first hand.

You know…that one employee that always sees the bad in every situation, and that no supervisor likes to deal with. They bad mouth your decision but will not have the courage to come speak with you directly to find out why you made such a decision.

When stopped and asked why they’re slandering a fellow employee, they’ll argue that they are only trying to shed light for purposes of training others…Bleh!

It’s nothing more than gossip and slander…by the one who thinks they could’ve done a better job.

Thus, they judge from afar while laying down a smoke screen of concern…easier to hide under the blanket of protectionism than…

So, walking into an office with gossip being tossed around by your supervisors, your professionalism questioned by your peers, and the never-ending scrutiny of those outside of your particular agency, company, or corporation, can make even the most stable employee nerve-wracked.

The workplace can feel like a battle zone, slugging it out in the trenches for professional respect, honor, and dignity.

When such things happen in an organization, your employees do not feel safe. Far from a safe haven where one can focus on their work and accomplish their mission.

It’s ugly.

How nice would it be if we as leaders were a bit more proactive?

Instead of taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the one employee that creates a hostile work environment, pull that individual to the side and tell them to be quiet, unless they would like to teach a class on how to do it better.

Most managers don’t deal with that employee because they themselves are entrenched…in protectionism. Hiding behind their desk and behind a curtain of fear.

What a relief it is when you work for someone that proves over and over again that they have your back.

This doesn’t mean you don’t answer for your actions—that’s true accountability; but it means that your leader cares enough about you that she doesn’t engage in hi-level hearsay. She won’t allow that piss poor employee run over you or the rest of the staff with slander, gossip, and negative attitudes.

The leaders that have exhibited that they care about me, are leaders that I’d follow over a cliff to get the job done.


Do your employees feel safe? Do they feel that they can come to you with a problem without fear of reprisal? Do the good folks that work for you feel that you have their best interests in mind?


Do you hide under a cloak of protectionism: behind your oak desk worried about your own reputation and look for the first opportunity to discipline a subordinate because that will make you feel powerful or make you look good in front of your supervisor?


Do we knee-jerk a decision about someone on our team before hearing the whole story and allow that employee a voice in the matter to find out what happened? Are we too interested in our comfort—making sure we get off on time, making sure we get that holiday off, always thinking about the benefits of our position—rather than ensuring that we do whatever it takes that those who look to us for help to accomplish their job get the right tools, equipment, training…and the knowledge that gossip and slander is quickly rooted out and dealt with in a timely, fair, and professional manner?

Are we a refuge for those whom we lead?

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

Posted by Christian Martin Jr.