Although he talks for a living, Don Imus certainly put his foot in his mouth this week. His racially charged comments on his nationally televised MSNBC cable show cost him both his cable and CBS radio programs. Leadership in a Diverse World expert Pegine Echevarria offers a ten step approach to shield leaders from career meltdowns triggered by what she named the “IMUS Syndrome”.
Pegine would consider Imus, 66, one of her “GOWMs” or Growing Older White Men, who she regularly coaches and trains during corporate and military leadership seminars. "GOWMs" are primarily men in leadership positions who need and want to communicate effectively with diverse groups so that they do not experience an “IMUS” moment.
As a Latina, business woman and former gang member from the Bronx, Pegine has experienced her share of prejudice and discrimination. Still, she can empathize with Imus. “While I do not excuse his behavior, I feel bad for Imus, because what occurred was preventable.” Pegine said yesterday from Team Pegine headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Florida. “He had that deer in the headlight look, because he was so surprised and shocked. He truly thought he was being funny, but the joke ended up being on him.” She continues, “These kinds of jokes and comments occur in board rooms, golf courses and are taken for granted. From a "GOWM’s" perspective it is innocent. However, there is an enormous personal and professional price to be paid by "GOWM’s" who don’t choose to change. Those who refuse to change can be infected with the “IMUS Syndrome”.
Pegine teaches military and corporate executives how to lead in a diverse world. She understands why the “IMUS Syndrome” is so widespread. “Off color remarks that people feel comfortable saying in front of their friends seems normal to them in other settings. However, these comments have no place at work, or anywhere, especially if you are a leader. Every leader is a leader in a diverse world all the time. Leaders and people who want to be leaders must choose to live with the GOWM Ten commandments or else they may suffer the “IMUS syndrome”
For just this type of situation, Pegine developed the GOWM Ten commandments. "Every GOWM should take these commandments to heart when communicating to people and so that they can prevent being infected with the 'IMUS Syndrome'.”
The “GOWM” Growing Older White Men Ten Commandments
or How to Prevent the “IMUS” Syndrome
© Pegine Echevarria 2007
1- I shall only make fun of myself. Teasing others will eventually cause me to experience an “IMUS” Syndrome.
2- I shall remove the word “whatever” from my vocabulary. If I am tempted to say “Your Hispanic, Latino …whatever” or “Asian, Oriental… whatever” I will not. It is demeaning, disrespectful and dismissive.
3- I shall not say or think that women leave work and career to have babies. I understand that if they have left under my watch they are leaving me and what I have been communicating.
4- I will not generalize about others. I will understand that each person is unique, different and diverse…including me. If I choose not to change my communication and perception I may cause an “IMUS Syndrome” experience.
5- I will have a diverse network. I will think of 20 of my best connections, determine if they include a wide variety of races, religions, genders and disabilities and if I don’t then, I will work diligently to change that.
6- I will seek to surround myself with diverse advisers, coaches and counselors. I choose to expand my vision. I’m know I am a participant in our global economy.
7- I shall require that I surround myself with others who value diverse people.
8- I will not participate in off color humor or derogatory remarks that cause harm; I will stand up for others.
9- I raised my daughter to be strong, powerful and confident. I will treat women the way I expect others to treat my daughter.
10- I will ask for help, if I don’t know how to behave in a certain situation I will ask for guidance.