SCHWEINFURT, Germany - A special visitor carried a special message from Washington to Schweinfurt Feb. 19.

Lawrence N. Self, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management for the National Institutes of Health, offered managers and supervisors in the USAG Schweinfurt a lesson in leadership here.

"EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) is really a function of leadership," Self said to the assembled leaders of the garrison. "If the leaders aren't involved, if they are not committed to this EEO process, then you have nothing."

Self, who worked with the Army for 14 years earlier in his career, made clear that the responsibility for creating positive and effective work environments rests squarely on leaders' shoulders.

"It has to work from the top down. It's not one of those programs that can work from the bottom up," he said.

"If the employee feels that they can trust their manager, if they feel that the confidence level is there, that that manager is technically proficient, and that manager will take care of them, they love coming to work," said Bennie Howse, USAG Schweinfurt EEO officer.

Educating leaders and developing them to deal with employees fairly is nothing new to the government service or the Army, according to Self.

"EEO's been effect since, I would say, back in the 70s. And the Army has been in the forefront in this process. They truly, truly have. There's no doubt about that," he said.

"At one time, that was the thought process," he said, of the notion that EEO only addressed concerns of women and minorities. "Then it becomes almost a cultural thing."

Managing and leading within the parameters of EEO laws and regulations is something Self called a "soft skill."

"We have to continue to keep this in front of (leaders). This is one of those soft skills. But that's fine," Self said.

Howse, who has known Self for more than 20 years and was instrumental in bringing the guest to Schweinfurt, noted a few critical points for leaders to follow.

"Treating everybody fairly is key. Being consistent in decision making is crucial. Defining tasks based on that mission, and not on one of those non-merit principles," such as race, ethnicity or gender, he said.