Getting away with murder

2006

General Sir Michael Rose, former commander of the SAS and UN military commander in Bosnia, thinks that Prime Minister Tony Blair should be impeached over the invasion of Iraq.

Why? Well – because the General believes that Blair should not be allowed to just, "walk away", with that big grin and fluffy hair, from his actions. Apparently it's bad form to lie ("mislead" is the word he uses) to the public and the government and the army about his "motives for going to war", when it was clear that removing weapons of mass destruction was the last thing on his mind.

Oh, and soldiers don't like going to war for the wrong reasons, Sir Michael added, which is why he would have resigned his commission rather than take troops into battle on the evidence offered by Blair.

This appears to have been common knowledge, or at the very least a common suspicion, among pretty much everyone involved with the decision-making and actions of the government. So why did they still go to war? And why did so few speak up? And why did politicians keep loyal to something they can't have agreed with on principle?

Why do politicians, managers, employees, and so many others allow others to get away with murder? Why for every whistle blower are there ten, one hundred, one thousand who keep their lips at some distance from any such attention-seeking device?

One explanation is that we develop sophisticated skills, from an early age, to for maintaining the status quo. We are taught to keep, "on message", to "play the game", to "fit in", to keep, "our mouths shut and our noses clean", at school to, "keep our opinions to ourselves", and, "like it or lump it".

We are reminded again and again that, "no one likes a wise guy" and that it's easier to, "fit in", from the neat orderly lines in the playground to the punishments handed out for those who speak up in defiance of any particular authority or convention. We can be ignored, censured, ridiculed and bullied by our peers for not towing the party, crowd, or gang line on anything.

These skills often make life easier (they stop the negative attention) and that they bring benefits including prizes, better grades, having friends, and, in the workplace, promotions. And once we have acquired the ability to deflect any logic that threatens the prevalent perspective of the group we prize it dearly even though it is a form of "skilled incompetence".

We have learned behaviour that makes it more difficult to learn, to think, or to improve but we are loath to abandon something that we do well and something that long experience has supported.

Most leaders work within the status quo and those who don't simply develop their own within which followers will work

Most leaders work within the status quo and those who don't simply develop their own within which followers will work. It's the alpha, type way. Their thoughts become reality which is rarely questioned by those who experience it. Even the leader becomes trapped within his own reality distortion (or creation) field. Saying, "no", is harder than it at first appears (and of course much simpler as well) because it requires an individual to develop (or adopt) a reality outside, distinct from the one that is causing them concern.

For a politician he would have to work within a reality that valued truth more than loyalty, victory, popularity, or power. Or alternatively one that seems to promise him more popularity or power – as when he works with a national newspaper to share things that are in the, "public interest", receive things that are in the "personal financial interest", and accept a reality that praises him as a man of conscience.

For soldiers, managers, doctors, nurses or anyone else, the challenge is much the same. To condemn, come forward and be a witness requires moving from one pull of gravity to another. That's why the FBI offers witness protection - it also underlines the way this is helping fellow Americans protect justice.

In fact, why don't whistle blowers have their own awards - perhaps even end up on the annual honours list given out by the Queen, or the Presidential honours of your country or company. It makes sense (over time) for shareholder groups to reward and protect truth-telling.

Groups that support whistle blowing will have to increase in number, strength, and become better known. Groups like whistleblowing.org set up by a father and son who were both whistleblowers who, in their words, "experienced the satisfaction of doing something that was morally right and both experienced workplace retaliation for our actions against fraud, waste, and abuse.

There needs to be an alternative, competing universe to which truth tellers can flee - one where they are rewarded, encouraged, and given power to improve the world. And, as Sir Michael has emphasised, one in which the guilty are brought to justice.

Unless we are content with the ways things are, we will have to (to paraphrase Blair) tackle the status quo and the causes of the status quo. Including our tendency to defend it rather than make a fuss.

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About The Author

Max McKeown
Max McKeown

Max McKeown works as a strategic adviser for four of the five most admired companies in the world. He is a well-known speaker on subjects including innovation and competitive advantage. His latest book, #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now, was published in July 2016.

Older Comments

The germans section (www.ialana.de) International Association Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (www.ialana.net) has started awarding internationally renowned whistleblowers on a bi-annual basis (http://www.ialana.de/45.html). All of the winners where engaged in sectors relevant to world security (military, health, environment). Further management suggestions at www.risk-communication.de/en - which takes an explicitly management-oriented approach to whistleblowing - as indispensable risk communication ...

sehen

Think about where whistleblowers are dealt with the worst: in dictatorships such as Saddam's. You blow the whistle, you're dead. In organizations, you get fired (pun unintended), and on one else will give you a job. No wonder people don't blow the whistle. In NASA's case, the engineer - Roger Boisjoloy - who blew the whistle on Challenger (the first shuttle disaster) was fired. He couldn't find another job after that.

The problem is that organization cultures are that of dictatorships. There's this brilliant article that analyses this whole issue - it's titled 'Why your boss is programmed to be a dictator' at http://www.changethis.com/19.BossDictatorhttp://www.changethis.com/19.BossDictator

John Hodge

I applaud your honest appraisal of the state of affairs in the government as well as the workplace. It is a terrible betrayal to an employee who is honest and loyal enough to care about an organisation. They report violations and I mean really true illegal actions of management and the employee is retaliated against. It only takes a minute to do the right thing. Instead the companyy will spend a great deal of time and money to attempt to discredit or find fault with the employee.The managemnt will do everything they can to keep from actually manageing the comapny and they turn to attack the employee who was actually looking to them to do thier job or part of it.

I think truth tellers and whistle blowers whose intention it is to improve the world or even thier tiny workplace should be rewarded. But even the great employers of this country retaliate and disclaim any knowledge of these employee's. Because the employee choose to follow the companies 'Code of Conduct'. The employee may have followed the chain of command first to no avail.The employee or whistleblower is usually at thier wits end and seems to me actually asking for thier company or country to make things right. It is easier to do the right thing. Managment needs to take some trips to this alternative world you write about. Maybe someday they will and start to truly be 'The best place to work'

I really enjoy your article and style.

Carol Isaacs Indiana