29 Feb -BOMBSHELL Leadership: Let’s find the courage to do what’s right!
I’m over cowardly leadership. I’m sick of leaders who don’t take a stand for what they say they believe in. I’m tired of posters, pamphlets, and presentations about values, integrity, and trust in organizations where people feel silenced, disregarded, and exist in fear.
Unfortunately, this environment is not an exception to the organizational rule. A toxic culture with ineffective leadership is too common today.
Coming off of Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday weekend, I am reminded of his quote: The tragedy of our time is not the oppression or cruelty of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people. If you need a more recent example, Alicia Keys told us at the Grammy’s that it’s when the good people do nothing that the bad guys win. It seems to me that the problem today is the silence of our leaders, those who have the power to make decisions, who can create some positive change, and who instead are sitting silent, doing nothing, essentially, letting the bad guys win.
I want to say that I use “bad guys” purposely. Unfortunately, we live in an environment where men, particularly white men, particularly straight, white men, still hold the majority of the power and continue to set the standard for the culture of our organizations. I know for certain there are ‘bad gals’ out there, however, until we get more women into positions of power, we have to face the reality that much of the toxicity comes at the hands of men. The patriarchy is alive and well, we all know this. AND, in our knowing, we can begin to make shifts.
Recently, the #MeToo movement exposed the widespread abuse and the cover ups that allowed the abuse to go on way too long. In the wake of #MeToo, stories are being told to highlight the toxic cultures and absent leadership that is to blame. Enter The Morning Show, an Apple TV+ original, and the movie Bombshell, the story of the Fox News sexual harassment scandal. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I really liked both of these shows. I am a big fan of speaking truth to power, and these shows highlight stories that need to be told. Each reflect large and horrific examples of how those at the top abused their power and violated the people they were supposed to serve. Unfortunately, there are “Bombshell moments” all over our organizations, and it’s time we find our voice and do something about it.
What’s a Bombshell moment, you ask? Bombshell moments are the inexcusable actions that leaders are aware of, yet remain covered up. Bombshell moments don’t have to be massive ethical or moral failures, although those aren’t excluded. They can be the small, subtle day to day actions that create harmful work environments. Essentially, Bombshell moments are those moments that tear at our spirit and sense of self. They get in the way of our work, and damage our wellbeing.
They show up in many ways:
- Microaggressions around race, gender or other identities
- “Locker-room talk” from employees, coaches, and athletes
- Condoning a double-standard
- Accepting unacceptable behavior such as demeaning language, drinking on the job, using shaming tactics to manage others
- Not speaking up to advocate for what’s right or what’s wrong when a situation happens out in the open.
Here’s the thing, we tend to minimize our Bombshell moments, make excuses for them, learn how to tolerate them, dismiss them. In doing so, we compromise not only ourselves, but also our work and the people living alongside us.
NOTE: Know that I am in NO way suggesting that the content or impact of the list above is the same as sexual harassment and abuse. Sexual harassment and abuse is a violation of another level. What I am doing is comparing the all-too-familiar paralysis of our leaders when the opportunity for action presents itself.
The biggest tragedy of Bombshell moments: the fact that leaders know about them and do nothing. They ignore, avoid, sit in appalling silence. Many times, these leaders are good people. They mean well and have good intentions. They are kind and have a vision for their organization. But they lack the courage to do what they need to do.
What is most confusing to me is that so often, these high-level leaders KNOW about these situations. They are aware of their misbehaving employee, they know the damage it’s causing, they hear and see the negative impact. Yet still, they fail to do anything about it.
This might be a harsh assessment in some cases, but not so in others. I can think of three situations right now where leaders have the opportunity to act and yet they do nothing. If I were to share with you the details, you’d be appalled. You’d be shocked. And I know I’m not alone in having examples.
I do a lot of work with youth organizations and schools. One of the saddest parts of this is that some of my examples are within schools where its kids who are relying on the leaders. And their leaders are failing them.
I bet you it would not be too hard for you to find examples of leaders who need to act more bravely, to lead with more courage. To be the good people who do not sit in silence. To be the good people who do something so the bad people don’t win.
So this is my call to us. It’s a call to those in positions of power. It’s a call to those working for and with leaders who have the opportunity to actually do an act of leadership.
It’s time to start being courageous and brave. It’s time to stop covering up for behavior that we know is NOT okay. Whatever it might be, however big or small, we need to say something. We need to do something.
I understand the tension that often keeps us silent. Truly, on a personal level, I understand why this is so difficult. I know leadership does not often listen. Administrators and executives collude together, and you not only feel powerless, but the past also shows you that they won’t do anything anyway. I get it. On top of it all, it’s possible the consequences could be real and hard for you. I get it. I promise you I do. But we have to start trying.
This is a call to all of us to find our allies and do our best not to settle. We can’t accept what we know is not okay. I want to say that again…. We can’t continue to accept behavior and actions we know are not okay.
Let’s be BRAVE.
I know the tension that exists when trying to make a difference in a damaging environment. The biggest question is how do we do it? What are some strategies that might help us be successful? How can we tell when it’s time to take the risk? Check out this BLOG for more conversation about how we can go about speaking up against Bombshell moments.