How and when to display courage in cultures of conformity...
I found to my cost, that speaking up, being true to my internal compass, and displaying integrity and courage, can have serious consequences. Though it's tempting for me to view my acts of whistleblowing rather romantically as courageous and positive indicators of my character, it's also a sobering reminder that displaying integrity can come at great personal cost, emotional and financial. Good guys don't always win, how I was treated after I decided to whistleblow had a huge and detrimental impact on me.
I understand that speaking up in large organisations, especially public service institutions, rarely ends well. But having worked in one of the world’s largest public service organisations, I fully appreciate the many pressures on individuals and teams, sometimes invisible and undetected, that stop good people from calling out poor behaviours and shining a torch on harmful practices.
In their ongoing efforts to manage their reputations, organisations can inadvertently discourage their employees from talking candidly about what they can see is not working well. Truth-Tellers are labeled as troublemakers or Whistleblowers and careers are needlessly sacrificed on the altar of public relations.
But staying quiet is not always a neutral, benign, or harmless decision, it is often a choice to be silenced and silence others. It may also be a choice to allow harm to happen to others that you would not want for yourself or those you love. Understanding when and how to speak up and display courage in the workplace is important. There will be times where you are aware but are also powerless, and on these occasions, it’s important to acknowledge the reality of your position, be kind to yourself, accept your own humanity, and take what learning you can from the situation. Trust me, nobody wins them all.
The reality of our existence, the backdrop of our lives against which our actions are aligned, is that most of us are financially committed, with no desire to upset the material balance of our lives or our status. In the overwhelming majority of cases where a decision to display courage is perceived as risky, silence will prevail. Our deep-seated and biologically evolved response is to stick with the group. Our instincts are hard-wired to default to the safe option, being ostracised from the group was a death sentence for our primate ancestors.
If belief is our inner voice, courage is its expression, and wisdom is knowing how and when to use it. I offer practical principles and techniques to help people address issues in safer and less confrontational ways.