Main Street the Business to Business Magazine

Workplace Relationships - by Dr. Bill Austin


A fisherman told me something I had never heard. He said, "A fish rots from the head down." I did a little research and found that there is a variation to this phrase. The Turks rephrased it to, "A fish stinks first at the head." Their interpretation of this phrase is that if a servant is disorderly, it is because the master is so.

Not everyone agrees that fish actually rot at the head first, but the saying is applicable to organization. Businesses and organizations take on the personality of their leaders. I found this to be true in my home church. Before I went off to college, our church seemed to me to be a very loving and demonstrative church. People were not afraid to hug and there was a spirit of belonging. It was a wonderful place to go as a teenager because I always felt welcomed there.

In a real way, the way the congregation interacted was in part because of how the pastor related to us. Several years later, I visited my church and found it distant and somewhat rigid. I noticed that the new pastor, though he was a loving person, was rigid and somewhat distant.

How leaders
how organizations
act internally.

How leaders act influences how organizations act internally. When a leader is critical and demeaning, the "fish" starts to stink. We can tell that the head stinks when employees are dreading going to work, when there is a high turn over, and when there is a negative spirit at the workplace.

I like what Jim Rohan, a motivational speaker, says are seven traits of a great leader:

1. Learn to be strong but not impolite. Some people mistake rudeness for strength. It’s not even a good substitute.

2. Learn to be kind but not weak. We must not mistake weakness for kindness. Kindness is a certain type of strength. We must be kind enough to tell someone the truth.

3. Learn to be bold but not a bully. I would add that a good leader can be assertive without being aggressive.

4. Learn to be humble but not timid. Some people mistake timidity for humility. But humility is a virtue; timidity is a disease.

5. Learn to be proud but not arrogant. This is the key to becoming a good leader.

6. Learn to develop humor without folly. In leadership, we learn that it’s OK to be witty but not silly; fun but not foolish.

7. Learn to deal in realities. Deal in truth. Save yourself the agony of delusion. Just accept life as it is—the whole drama of life.

I would also add empathy. Empathy is learning to lean into another person to understand their feelings, dreams, and hurts.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700

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