Why Zero Tolerance is a bad leadership policy

3strikes_w_sig_cmykSomewhere around 1972 a new term hit the world of behavior science and changing the way we punish undesirable behavior.  The consequence of that change in thought removed the ability for leaders, judges, and people in authority to make decisions.
Zero Tolerance removes discretion.  For this reason it is a terrible leadership policy.  Leaders need to have the ability to make decisions and evaluate the behavior and the effect that it had on the group.  Leaders need to be fair and just.  Zero Tolerance does not allow for that.  Zero Tolerance establishes a set punishment for a set offense.  It does not take into account the level or severity of the offense and what the result of the offense was.
As a leader we need to know that everything is not equal and some things are more severe than others.  We talk about having a Zero Tolerance policy when it comes to bullying.  On the surface that seems great.  But given Zero Tolerance there is no need to investigate the offense.  One person claims that another was a bully and the case is closed.  What happened?  How did it happen?  Was someone having a bad day?  What was said?  It doesn’t matter as long as one person feels they were bullied.
We talk about zero tolerance when it comes to knife safety.  This eliminates the learning opportunity and creates fear of using the tool.
We recently had a case here in our town where a middle school student wore a t shirt to school that had a picture of an M4 carbine covered in a helmet.  Commonly referred to as a soldiers cross.  We see them in memorials to fallen soldiers and were common place on battle fields over the ages.  The teacher was obligated because a “zero tolerance” policy about guns to report the young man and he was suspended.
The authority figure here was not allowed to use discretion.  The authority here was not allowed to use common sense and make a decision based on the policy.  A picture of the rifle, while it can never do harm is still a rifle and therefore falls under the policy of zero tolerance.
In my opinion this is horrible leadership.  It does not accomplish a behavior change, it does not pass the common sense test and does not allow for leaders to make a judgement call.
Who gets hurt?  What is the crime?  What is the outcome?  None of these questions are allowed in a zero tolerance environment.
So when we use zero tolerance in our Troops we do not teach leadership and we do not let leaders go through the decision making process.  We don’t use the death penalty for every crime, so we should be more fair when looking at behavior change and policy in our Troop.
For this reason and others, our Troop does not have a policy book or set of by laws.  We use the Scout Oath and Law.  The Oath and Law are not subject to “Zero Tolerance”.. they are values that shape the way a young man thinks and acts.  They are values that allow for the Scout to answer the question.. DID I?  Did I act in accordance with the Oath and Law.  It allows for a graduated scale when looking to change behavior. We don’t have to be either/or we can have a discussion and be good teachers and mentors.
Zero Tolerance is bad leadership policy and does not work in Scouting.  Don’t fall into that PC trap.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

One comment

  1. Principal in a zero tolerance for weapons was forced to expel a senior for having a knife and axe in his car. Eagle scout back from a campout. Another case Student call home from office of the school to get mother to come get a gun from his car to take home. Secretary calls police about his having gun.

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