Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Small Lesson in Leadership

Today we have a true anecdote that illustrates a lesson in leadership.

The other day at the gym, after finishing up my workout, I headed into the steam room to stretch a little bit and warm down before heading home. There was no one else in there, but another guy came in just a moment later. We'll call him "the Slob". He went and sat down on one of the benches. A couple of minutes later, a third guy came in. We'll call him "the Other Guy". He sat down and we were all minding our own business.

I was stretching and touching my toes, and couldn't see what happened next, but the audio was utterly disgusting.

I clearly heard a complete, four-part SNORT -- HACK -- SPIT -- SPLAT!

It came from the direction of the Slob.

Generally, if someone so much as coughs in the steam room, I head for the door. I don't get all in peoples' faces for coughing, since I know that sometimes a lungfull of steam can go down wrong or get caught in your throat and trigger an uncontrollable cough. I just don't want to hang around in that newly-germ-laiden air.

At this point, I was not about to hang around in there after the Slob's unbelievably crass display. But what came screeching to my conscious mind in the split second before I headed towards the door was that this guy needed to be called out on his behavior. I looked up and my gaze went from the Slob to the Other Guy.  We were looking at each other, both with the same look of disbelief that said, "did that guy really just spit in here?"

I spoke up. "Did you just spit in here?"

The Other Guy followed immediately with "Yeah, did you just spit in here?"

And what do you think happened next? Did the Slob apologize? Leave the room in embarrassment? Act with any contrition at all? Amazingly, none of the above. Rather, he got defensive and belligerent. Defensive and belligerent! It actually turned into an argument!

See why I called him "the Slob"?

After a few moments of arguing about the appropriateness of spitting in the steam room (!), during which the Other Guy and I were completely unable to convince the Slob of the inappropriateness of his behavior, the Other Guy said, "That's it. I'm reporting this to the front desk." He stormed out and I followed him, not really sure where this was all going to end up, but just kind of automatically.  I certainly wasn't going to hang around with the Slob any longer, and the Other Guy might need backup.  Plus, I wanted to complain to management too, given the argument and all.  I wasn't sure whether he was going to march all the way to the front desk right then and there -- it seemed like he was maybe going to.  He was in his swimsuit, but I was only in a towel.  Anyway, off we went to complain to someone.

Often, there will be someone on staff in the locker room, whether they're just in there to use the restroom or whatnot, but at this point none was in there.  Then the Other Guy went to the phone on the wall, right next to the entrance from the main gym. I've always seen that phone but never seen anyone use it. There was a slightly comedic moment when he went to pick up the receiver. There are no instructions or anything with the phone, no sign reading "To report a spitting incident, dial '0' for an operator". It's just a phone with a keypad and some different line buttons on it. He stared at it for a second, shrugged, dialed '0' and said "Front desk? I want to report an incident. A guy just spit in the steam room..." He described the Slob, what he looked like, what kind of shorts he was wearing, etc. He told the front desk peopleguy that he had just seen the perp leave the steam room and out towards the pool. Then he said, "If you don't believe me, here's another guy who witnessed it too; talk to him" and he handed me the phone and walked away.

I took the phone and confirmed what he had said, and told them that they should throw the guy out, or at least deal with it in some way because it was completely unacceptable.  In the end, I don't know whether they threw him out or exactly what happened.  I got dressed and left, and I think the Other Guy did the same.

But here are the lessons I took away from the incident:

1. When you see something going on that isn't right, say something. Make the effort. Take a moment to bring it to someone's attention (preferably someone in a position to do something about it.) You never know when your action might inspire someone else to take action and join your effort. If I hadn't spoken out, it's quite possible that the Other Guy wouldn't have spoken out either. I certainly hadn't planned on calling the front desk. Yet, by my speaking out, the Other Guy was inspired to take even further action on the matter than I would have done.

Also, I really like my gym, and I don't want it to be the kind of place that this sort of thing can go on.  The management and staff work really hard to make it a nice place for people to work out and improve their well being, and I don't want people like the Slob bringing it down.  Hopefully the Slob will have learned some manners, although this seems dubious to me.

2. Upon further reflection, I came up with the concept of the Threshold of Outrage. People hold their own standards of what is acceptable, what is unacceptable but not worth worrying about or mentioning, and what is beyond the pale. I find that lately I have been lowering my own T of O, and it has had a lot of benefit. Especially when I can see that I do have a positive impact on things when I make the effort.

By lowering your threshold of outrage, and making the effort to speak out, one exhibits leadership - a quality that is in desperately short supply these days.

Now, go forth and speak your mind, and feel free to do so in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. Justice, juding people's actions, is such an important virtue to practice on any scale. Even little things like this help keep one's own mind sharp by having you act on your moral code--that action makes moral abstractions real.

    It also shows bystanders that some people do have principles, which shows them they are not alone if they care about standing up for what is right. And even the spitter at the very least grasps on some level that he may be confronted for being a barbarian, so he'll be more likely to think twice before acting like a baboon again.