I had a wonderful phone call last week from Wendy Addison. Wendy has an excellent website called Speakout-Speakup (www.speakout-speakup.org) and provides support to organizations who want to do more than simply set up a whistleblowing policy. In addition to this, Wendy, drawing upon her own experiences as a whistleblower in South Africa, has been an outspoken advocate and media personality for taking a holistic approach to whistleblowing in organizations. I would also recommend the excellent videos on her site as well.
I was reflecting on Wendy’s call afterwards and it suddenly struck me how good I was feeling. A simple 25 minute phone call from someone (a stranger!) who simply wanted to tell me that she thought I was doing a good job and while she takes a slightly different approach to me, wanted to share stories and common beliefs.
That such a simple act could be so affirming, so uplifting and reinforce what is sometimes a very lonely path at the forefront of new ways of thinking got me wondering how many other times we try to make life more difficult than it should be.
Rather than creating a series of complicated responses to a perceived problem (of whistleblowing), what if organizations simply tried to get people talking and listening more? Rather than formal policies and expensive confidential help-lines, what if we simply tried to reach out to employees and asked for their opinion, or what was important to them?
In most Western economies, business is starting to turn away from short-termism, bottom line numbers, creating economic value, minimising taxes and treating companies as though they are separate from the societies in which they exist. This movement will take time and there will be many starts and stops but I believe that there is an irresistible force, driven in many cases by younger generations, which cannot be halted.
Instead of looking up to leaders who by luck and hard work rise to positions with fancy titles and feel they deserve extortionate salaries based on the work of others, maybe we should praise those around us who take the time to understand and who lead by example, whatever their formal role. When we are able to connect with people we have a chance to test our thoughts, get perspective or encouragement, share common beliefs and visions.
It is that form of leadership, what some are starting to call authentic leadership, who will turn the traits of people we currently call whistleblowers into the heroes of the future.