We are all guilty of it… willful blindness. Those times when we can see that something untoward is happening and yet somehow we turn away, don’t speak up, find ourselves ‘resigned’ to the situation even knowing it’s less than it should/could be.
Margaret Heffernan has written on this subject and her Ted Talk is a salutary reminder of our tendencies to avoid shining the light on deficiencies in our institutions, societies, and communities. Those deficiencies don’t have to be major legal, moral or ethical contraventions, though in considering the idea of willful blindness, of course, our mind may well go to those first, especially in the light of so many significant institutional failures over the decades. We must continue to address these and show courage in doing so.
However, we should also be looking closer to home, to the behaviours, decisions, and challenges in the institutions we work in where ‘everyone’ can see there’s an issue but either is, or feels, powerless to do anything about it. These may be issues of poor judgement, decision making, process, failure to act, or the need to speak truth to power…
The number of situations where ‘everyone’ can see the failings, the gaps, and the inappropriate action seem at times to be endless, especially in complex, large organisations. Politics, survival, lack of confidence, lack of courage…all can be cited as reasons why leaders don’t ‘call it out’ more and these are all real in one sense. We might though, recall the story of the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ here and ask ourselves which role are we playing in any given situation – the ego-driven Emperor, the ingratiating courtiers, the ‘grateful’ townspeople, the swindling couturiers, the courageous small boy?
Willful blindness is a question of leadership. It calls on us to find not only the courage but the creativity and the will to put forward our views AND offer alternatives. When we see a corporate process that isn’t working, there’s no value in major ‘violent’ agreement behind the scenes than grudging cooperation with the inappropriate process. If it matters, then it matters to take a leadership stand – it matters that we commit our energy and capabilities to developing and offering alternative solutions and options. It matters that we ‘call it out’ – constructively, helpfully but determinedly.
What role will you play today?