By Deryn Sumner
Note: When I first started contributing to this newsletter, Bill told me I had liberty to write about pretty much whatever I wanted. I’m going to take him up on that this month and depart a bit from my usual arena of EEO law to talk about my father’s career and the lessons I’ve learned from him. [Editor’s Note: I am so smart.]
On April 18, 2016, my father, Dave Sumner, retires from his position as the Chief Executive Officer of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). Those of you who know what ham radio is likely know about ARRL. Those of you who are ham radio operators may even know of my dad, even if you know him only by his call sign, K1ZZ. In his role leading this non-profit, he traveled all over the United States and the world attending conferences, meetings, and conventions spreading the mission of ARRL: to advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.
My dad has been a ham radio operator since the age of 13. He held his first job at ARRL during the summer of 1968 and joined the staff full-time in 1972. Some people work to live and some people live to work. My father was fortunate enough to make a career of his passion for ham radio. That’s not to say that he enjoyed every aspect of the job. However, last week my husband and I flew up to Connecticut to attend my father’s retirement party. I had the pleasure of hearing some very touching tributes to my dad’s work over the many decades he has been with ARRL. Some common themes emerged during these speeches that caused me to reflect on what makes a good supervisor that will cause people to travel (some from other countries) on a rainy Thursday evening to wish you well at the end of your career. I thought these themes I came away with would be helpful for some of the supervisors in the FELTG audience.
Don’t take credit for the work of others, and go out of your way to make sure those who do good work get proper credit for it. Be a mentor to other employees. Hearing so many people say what a mentor my dad had been to them in their careers was a delight. If someone comes to you with a problem, don’t make that person feel silly or demeaned for asking you for help. Assist with working to come up with a solution and make sure they have the tools to get there. Keep calm, even when things get contentious. Know your stuff or know where to look it up. Everyone may not have the encyclopedic memory of my dad (I know I don’t) but you should speak with authority and credibility.
At its core, employment discrimination law is about the relationships between people. It is one of the best (and of course, one of the worst) aspects of the job representing employers and employees in EEO complaints. Employees feel disrespected, even harassed, by how their supervisor treats them. A supervisor tries to hold accountable an employee who feels defensive, or that the criticism is unwarranted, or that they haven’t been given the proper tools to succeed. Sometimes these interactions are motivated by unlawful animus because of someone’s membership in a protected class. And sometimes it’s because two people have a poor working relationship or there is disrespect on either side. Being in a room with a group of people who respected my dad and will miss working with him was certainly a highlight for me. Supervising people is hard work, but remembering that they are people and part of your job as a supervisor is to nurture their careers, can go a long way to fostering healthy working relationships. Sumner@FELTG.com