Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, explained in his book The Score Takes Care of Itself that his job was to win football games. But he couldn’t win those games if he focused too much on the score, a lagging indicator of what he was doing well or poorly as a coach. He needed to back up and understand the leading indicators: behaving ethically, demanding high standards, holding people accountable, and teaching the players the right way to play.
Bias, prejudice and bullying cause unethical behavior, lower standards, prevent accountability, and harm collaboration. All of these things will prevent you from achieving your goals.
Of course, it’s not your fault that bias, prejudice and bullying are so common. But you’re the boss and so it is your problem. It’s not your job to make the whole world just; but it is your job to make your little corner of the world as fair as possible. And you’re going to need your team’s help, which will require you to make it safe for them to challenge both you and each other.
This requires what psychologist Jennifer Freyd calls institutional courage, a leadership commitment to seek the truth and to take action on behalf of those who trust or depend on the institution — even when it’s unpleasant, difficult, and costly. Institutional courage requires proactive action, like creating systems by which employees can raise concerns without fear of being punished, as well as responsive action, responding to reports of harm forthrightly, thoroughly, and fairly. These efforts can help prevent future incidents, allow people harmed to recover more quickly, increase trust between employees and leaders, and enhance the institution’s overall reputation.
On the other hand, institutional betrayal — when an institution mistreats those who trust or depend on it — only compounds the harm to all involved. Some common forms of institutional betrayal are victim blaming, sweeping incidents under the rug, and the like. It can be tempting to engage in these behaviors as a way to save time and money or limit legal exposure. But in the long run, institutional betrayal harms people all over again, and will harm your organization’s reputation in the long run.
In this episode, Wesley and I discuss institutional courage and betrayal with our guest Delia Grenville. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts, or here: https://www.justworktogether.com/podcast-season-2