Damning the Damned: 4 Reasons Why It Never Works

Like many states, Arizona has a public agency, Child Protective Services (CPS), charged with the safety of children under the age of 18.  Also, like many states, it is one of the most maligned of organizations, with multiple horror stories of child abuse and the endless political diatribe that follows.  When I began my career, CPS was less criticized, the leadership was strong and almost every case worker had a Master’s degree.  Today, the damning is a daily occurrence, the leadership is in hiding, case worker wages have declined in real (an unreal) terms, and most case workers do not have advanced degrees.

And still we damn the damned.  What is the operating philosophy behind this approach?  Of course, public employees operate in a unique marketplace, but similar violent criticism occurs in many private companies.

Here is why it never works: 

  1. By nature we seek encouragement and recognition of our skills and ourselves.  Even in the most dysfunctional organizations, dedicated employees will seek their safest niche to avoid the damnation and find respect.
  2. Good results can be driven by criticism-oriented leadership on a short-term basis, but only with psychologically-injured or incredibly committed individuals on a long-term basis.  Healthy people with values intact will leave these organizations, further depleting the soul of the organization.
  3. Damning the damned is evidence of poorly conceived and implemented strategy for today’s world.  Can you imagine someone leading with the following:  we’re going to focus on the negative and pay people less than they’re worth with the hope that we’ll get great outcomes.  Brilliant!
  4. It is almost impossible for good leaders to emerge in such an environment.  They stay for a while and then leave, as expected.  Good leaders migrate to environments where they have a chance of succeeding.

The case of public service organizations like CPS is discouraging and reflective of our concerns about preserving the common good.  The hope is that each of us can create encouraging, outcome-focused organizations that create a benefit for others.  Leaders who see and understand this, stand out.