The “Hazardous Attitudes” of Managing a Small District

Jun 2016 16 | Posted by liz.smith

By Mark Velasquez, Hunt Jeppson & Griffin, LLP

Before becoming a lawyer I was a flight instructor, and a commercial pilot.  There are some interesting similarities between flight instructing and being a manager or board member of a district.   One of them is in decision making.   One thing flight instructors teach their students about is hazardous attitudes.   Hazardous attitudes undermine a pilot's aeronautical decision making, and can interfere either with learning or a safe flight.  However, these same attitudes can interfere with the decision making of a manager or board member as well.   The hazardous attitudes are:  antiauthority, impulsivity, invulnerability, overconfidence, and resignation.  Let’s look at each one. 

Antiauthority  While most of us don't like to admit it, at times we all act as if the rules don't apply to us. After all, “I am the district manager, and I am in charge.”  Or, after all, “I am a board member and I make the rules.”   Peer pressure, self-image, and the “hurry-up” situation are probably the most common cause of allowing antiauthority traits to get the best of us. When we feel a strong need to get something done, we can feel justified in bending (or ignoring) the rules. When we feel that our position is questioned or challenged by staff or a member of the public we respond with rashness, rather than thoughtfulness.  When our antiauthority attitude overwhelms our good judgment, we're squarely in the danger zone.

Impulsivity  A person with a hazardous impulsive attitude may feel the need to do something-anything-quickly. There are very few times when lightning-quick responses are essential to safety and survival in an airplane, let alone running a district. Simply, reacting too quickly can get us into trouble. It's better to take time to sort things out before committing to a course of action.  That means not immediately responding to an e-mail that has infuriated you, or accused you or the district of something sinister; not making a snap decision about an employee who was done something wrong; or anything without first thinking it through and consulting with others.   

This brings up a point that might be the most important take-away from this entire article.  Especially district managers, but also board members, should have at least one other person of to be able to consult with.  I believe it is imperative that you have at least one, if not three, other persons whether they are other district managers, attorneys, accountants, or simply a local community leader that you can pick up the phone and talk about your job with.  If you do not have such a person, then I recommend you contact Jennifer Peters at GSRMA.  Jennifer can put you in contact with another member who can be your sounding board. 

Invulnerability  Perhaps our built-in sense of invulnerability is a survival mechanism that allows us to cope with the prospect of unpleasant situations. If we truly believed that we would be fired for every decision we made, we would never make them.  If we believed that the district would be sued every time we conducted a burial, we wouldn’t be in business. We don't think our long-time employee is going to sue us when he or she leaves; or that a visitor will sue us for knocking a headstone on top of themselves; or a citizen will sue our small district to provide an accounting of finances.  We tend to believe that these things won’t happen to us, or our district. We believe that as long as we make good decisions, we should never have an accident. However, this feeling of invulnerability should always be tempered by an equally strong sense of caution. Otherwise, this important survival mechanism becomes a serious liability. We may fail to stop and consider the very real risks that are involved in the actions we take.

Overconfidence  Sometimes when we have a strong desire to accomplish a goal, we can fool ourselves into believing that we can do something that is actually stretching the limits of our abilities.  Sometimes, we just think we are better than we really are.  Either way, overconfidence results in taking unnecessary risks.  Again, this is where having a person to bounce ideas off of can really come into play – any time you believe you are totally right and someone else is totally wrong, you are probably at least partially off base.  Speaking with another person can help you identify issues you have thought of or shed some new perspective. 

In addition, do not become so overconfident so as to assume that you do not need additional training.  Every single person needs continuous education to remain good at whatever it is that they do. As a pilot I need a flight review every other year at a minimum, and as a lawyer 25 hours of education every two years. Managers, this means identifying areas where you or your staff could use training – be that conflict resolution, time management, employment law, etc.  Board members, this means listening to your managers and/or determining when you or your manager need such training. 

Resignation When faced with difficult situations you might find yourself saying: "There's nothing more I can do," or "I can't do that." Those with a hazardous resignation attitude believe that they have little control over their own destiny-that fate or bad luck is the cause of their misfortune.  Failure is the only result from resignation, and failure is not an option when running a government entity. 

While these hazardous attitudes all have negative connotations, each really represents a trait or characteristic embodied in the psyche of every human being. The key to avoiding these attitudes is to understand the factors that influence each one of these traits in our self, and recognizing situations when these traits may become prevalent enough to compromise our decision-making ability. Then, we can make good decisions.  

Mark Velasquez, an attorney at Hunt Jeppsen & Griffin, represents members whose claims are being handled by GSRMA, as well as answer the GSRMA HR Hotline, and assists in presenting trainings sponsored by GSRMA.  Mr. Velasquez was the principal of his own law firm in San Diego for eight years which focused on employment, business, and aviation law prior to working for Hunt Jeppsen & Griffin.  Before attending law school, Mr. Velasquez was a commercial airline pilot for American Eagle Airlines and AirNet Express in addition to being a flight instructor.