Part of the dinner conversation I had the other night with someone close to me concerned one of the most common dilemmas we face when working for any hierarchical organization; the abuses a subordinate sees taking place yet has no bestowed authority by which they can mandate a remedy. What is left to them is either silence, which is a distasteful form of collaboration, or what we term whistle blowing.
If a person takes the latter path, they do so without really knowing how high up in the organization the moral corruption exists. In any entity where this kind of behavior persists long enough to be considered the norm, you can be assured that the sky is the limit when it comes to the lack of the courage and integrity amongst the leadership to address the abuses. The whistle blower is then literally as well as figuratively whistling in the dark.
Another undesirable aspect we must confront within the confines of whistle blowing is that it is a decision taken in admission that we can never be part of the solution. It is an act of surrender since the unstated aspect of this tactic is the implicit acknowledgement that changes from within is beyond one’s capabilities to implement. Heads may roll, but the avalanche is just as likely to include the bearer of bad news as well as the culprits we wish to bring to some sort of justice.
The sad news is that there is rarely any justice within the framework of human operations. Human nature assigns blame to all who are involved in any investigation. And there is a certain stigma attached to the whistle blower for being another kind of offender, a stooge or a snitch if you will, a person who has violated the trust of everyone else affiliated with the organization in question. For when the whistle is blown even the innocent will bear the mark of guilt by association if only for being blind to what the rest of us now know to be obviously true thanks to the superiority invested in us by hindsight.
My sympathies are with the person of integrity, who knows that there is something wrong with the system, which fails to serve the people who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the organization’s reason for existence. There is no easy solution for how to act on such knowledge. The analogy I have often employed when attempting to address any type of abuse is that it is like striking the tar baby; even if you can subsequently extricate yourself from the offender, you will still come away with some measure of stain from the experience. Hopefully a measure of wisdom also ensues as experience is credited with being our best teacher.
Despite my occasional susceptibility to cynicism, I am an optimist. I can honestly campaign for the premise that right makes might, with the caveat that might in this case is the struggle to maintain one’s own good name in pursuit of a worthy cause. Success for correcting the abuses cannot be guaranteed. Success, however, in emerging with one’s soul intact is a given.
My suggested solution is to personify right behavior and always ask – especially in the presence of others – if the correct tactic can be implemented. Then be prepared to illustrate how this can be done to achieve the best result. The why is less important than the how as abuses often arise because a supervisor has been elevated to a position of authority beyond their means to perform, not because they are congenitally immoral.
A credible solution, which you will help to implement, has its own appeal, especially if you do not care who gets the credit for its success. Applaud the work of everyone involved and give your supervisor the necessary accolades for choosing the best path. Maintain a modicum of humility in order to position yourself for the next opportunity to amend a deficiency and then act once again with the same resolution.
I do have an ulterior motive for suggesting this strategy as an alternative to whistle blowing. The advantage here is that it creates its own form of accountability. The “A” word for the incompetent creates discomfort, which in turn can lead to early retirement or a late in life career change. Ultimately abuses are corrected with personnel changes, not adjustments to policies and procedures. Being the good and faithful servant to an abusive leader means having one eye on the benefits bestowed on those you serve and one eye on the abusers eventual exit – peacefully achieved. When successfully done, you can whistle a happy tune resonating with a clear conscience.