Saturday, November 24, 2012

Uncomfortable Parallels and the Need for Courageous Leadership

In the 20 years I've consulted I have seen how people can condone, incentivise, deny, justify and enable bad behaviour from petty theft and time theft to racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Not all are first degree perpetrators. But those who stand by and do nothing because the person doing the crime makes the company lots of money, or because uprooting them will expose the company to scandal and consumer backlash, are guilty of the same warped thinking on a far lesser scale than those who thought they were protecting the Church by sending perpetrators off to hide in clinics or remote parishes.

Reading the weekend paper yesterday with its emerging testimony about horrific crimes committed against vulnerable children who don't have a voice, can't "resign", lodge a grievance or involve the union, I was struck by the uncomfortable parallels, not in magnitude of crime and breach of trust but in respect of cultures that allow bad things to happen to people and then go on to protect the perpetrators whilst selling out the targets and victims.

Only yesterday, a frustrated client told me how their organisation had taken the bully several people had complained about (several others had left in protest or in turmoil) and moved him to a regional Branch. Whilst the vulnerability of paid employees pales in comparison to the vulnerability of young children, both recipients of unwelcome attention can experience feelings of anger, shame or self-reproach, powerlessness and grief. The difference between the incompetence and cowardice of moving senior managers rather than investigating and sacking them and moving known perpetrators of sexual abuse to other schools when they should be reported to the police and charged, is a matter of degree.

Child abuse is the ultimate of all tragedies and travesties. Working on compassionate and effective ways to help victims heal is not mutually exclusive to working on developing culture so that employees also feel safe and can flourish. It would be inappropriate, even insulting to equate the two. But it is worth noting that human beings have a very limited repertoire of reactions when faced with threat. And no one, adult or child should ever have to feel cornered and unsafe. Our track record on both is poor. We can and must do better.