Good Leadership, Bad Leadership, and Whistleblowing

Right on the front page of the WSJ, there is an example of good and bad leadership. After reading both articles, I then began to think about what to do when leadership is not performing well. I wanted to write down some of my thoughts on the subject.

Assad, the Syrian leader, has allegedly used a chemical weapon on his people. As I think about the severity of that comment, I am overwhelmed. The leader of a country has used a gas on his own people. Not a water hose, or strong arm police tactics, but a chemical agent that can kill. The United States government has stated, “to varying degrees of confidence,” that this has occurred and Syrian leadership has crossed the red line. The US is not the first country to note that Assad has done this evil deed. Israel, Britain, and France have already stated that Assad has violated the red line. I do appreciate our caution on this matter, because if the red line has not been crossed and we proceed militarily will we create another Iraq and Afghanistan? I seem to remember we went into another country looking for WMD, and came up empty-handed.

The so-called good leadership was illustrated in a picture right under the article dealing with Syria. For the first time in history five “surviving” Presidents were photographed together. The event was the opening of 43’s new library in Dallas, Texas. I say this illustrates good leadership because these men led a democratic nation through some very difficult times, and we survived and thrived. Obviously, each of these men had their issues. Carter was a one term President. Clinton was impeached. 41 was caught looking at his watch during a debate, implying he had something better to do. 43 left office with a very low approval rating, and 44’s approval rating has plummeted too. Individually these men were leaders of varying degrees, but as a system the US system has generally worked well. It is because we the people can elect our leaders, we have a voice; one we should never abdicate.

That brings me to my next thought. In this country we have the ability to vote our political leaders out if needed. But what do we do when we are in a business and the leader will not listen, continues to make bad decisions, or in an environment of collaboration continues to leader in a militaristic manner that does not create a team? Do you blow the whistle? I say yes, but knowing full well that it may cost you, the Whistleblower.

My favorite Business Ethics writer is a man named Richard DeGeorge. He states that when three criteria are in place then it is permissible to blow the whistle. First, if the harm that is occurring is serious and considerable. Second, you have told the appropriate people within the chain of command. Three, the people above have not dealt with the situation. If these three characteristics are in place then it is permissible to blow the whistle.

DeGeorge adds two more elements; if these are in place then it is morally obligatory for the person to blow the whistle. I will call this characteristic four. Fourth, there is documented evidence that an impartial observer can look at to determine your assessment is correct. Five, making the information public will ensure the problem is dealt with.

Going over your boss’s head and blowing the whistle is a serious step. Many times the person who blows the whistle is damaged. They lose their job, black listed, etc. However, sometimes it is critical to the long-term health of the organization. Many times a leader, like Assad, becomes leader for life. This motivates these leaders to think they have a mandate to do whatever they think is right. They become the standard of morality. This is why our government has chosen term limitations. This will ensure a better plan of succession.

Good leadership and bad leadership is a reality in organizations. Obviously bad leadership in our businesses does not include real chemical attacks, but metaphorically bad leadership can do the same thing. Their actions destroy the creativity of and vitality of employees, in other words kill the organization. Good leadership is inclusive, one that encourages idea generation and freedom of thought. Bad leadership needs to be exposed, even at the cost of the person who exposes it. The group will be better for it.

And that is my thought for the day!


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