Corporate Willful Blindness

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?


Lorraine Flower
Lorraine Flower
As a Corporate change agent, consultant, coach and mentor Lorraine founded azzur and is completely transparent about the spiritual principles on which it operates. Alongside her 18 years as azzur’s founder, Lorraine brings 20 years' service industry experience to bear through her senior leadership roles at British Airways (BA) and Great North Eastern Railway (GNER). It is Lorraine's belief in individual and organisational power for good that gives azzur its raison d'etre. azzur and Lorraine specifically has worked with clients across the business spectrum from financial services, to retail and transport to healthcare an in both the public and private sectors. azzur is focused on developing contemporary, spirited leadership capability, and organisations built on inspiring purpose, empowering cultures and a powerful vision and values. She is championing new models of leadership and organisational development founded on the principles of conscious leadership and writes extensively on these topics.She is a member of a number of global spiritual groups and communities serving the greater good of Humanity and the planet. She works and studies extensively in developing and exploring conscious leadership believing that business leaders are key players in transforming the well-being of the planet and humanity as a whole.

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  1. Really interesting and shareable.
    This argument makes me rethink the concept of ethics in work to what I call ethical competence.
    It means developing critical thinking about what we do based on certain values. Always starting from a doubt, from a question: “What is it good for me to do?”, “How good is it that you relate to me?”. Questioning what and how we do something in relation to the principles we choose to observe is always the starting point for a weighted and valuable behavior.
    This competence is based on the development of a critical awareness of concrete decisions, making conscious choices in line with moral values.

    • Thank you dear Also for your powerful questions – what stands out to me is the word ‘good’ – it’s a simple yet powerful word and if we apply the principle of ‘is this for the greater good?’ we start to find the moral, ethical and caring basis for reviewing any decision, action and corporate behaviour.