When a culture of fear dominates, organizations crumble

Without accountability within our organizations, we lack credibility. Without credibility, we lose our respect and become irrelevant

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David FullerThe Catholic church has faced increased – and justified – criticism of its handling of abuse cases. There are allegations that the highest authorities of the church turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of some of its leaders. The results were catastrophic at so many levels, especially for those people who were abused by priests and bishops.

But these issues are not isolated to the Catholic church. The problems facing the church are systemic in many organizations, including public bodies like our police forces, judicial systems and city bureaucracies.

Before you go off on a rant about how I dare compare the Catholic church with the RCMP, let me explain.

The underlying issue with the Catholic church is not that there are sexual predators within the organization, it’s that there was a culture that allowed those people to perpetuate their crimes and get away with them, despite others knowing about it.

Sexual abuse is unfortunately prevalent in our society. We have it in our families, in our workplaces and in our schools. In January 2018, the CBC reported that there could well be 4,000 cases of sexual abuse against members of the RCMP.

In the past, we felt best if we covered it up and didn’t talk about it. “Keep your kids away from Uncle Albert or Cousin Andy,” might have been heard in families whispered by mothers and daughters, but rarely addressed openly or tackled with the full effects of the law.

There are organizations where it’s still ‘normal’ for people to have to provide ‘favours’ (not just sexual) to be eligible for bonuses, raises and advancement. There are public bodies where one has to keep quiet about abuses of power in order to protect their job status. There are cities where planners see that their friends get benefits, information and quicker services in exchange for gifts. There are businesses where money is exchanged for protection or to ensure continued operations.

None of this is right so why does this corruption exist?

In a nutshell: fear.

We think that if we expose an abuser of any sort, that we’ll be subject to an inquiry that will expose us or the organization that we believe in – our family, business, workplace, school or church – to unnecessary embarrassment.

Perpetrators of abuses of power, whether sexual or otherwise, are counting on this culture of fear to protect them. In some cases, they’ve been known to flaunt this knowledge and fear, and hold it over their seemingly powerless victims.

In almost every case of exploitation that comes to light, other people have known about the abuse but have chosen to stand on the sidelines. They may have observed the abuse and let it happen, turned a blind eye, or heard whispers and failed to speak out. In many cases, people have come forward but others inside the organizations, whether it be business, government or church, have failed to do anything about it or to investigate further.

As an employer, I know what it’s like. Though I’ve never heard any allegations of sexual abuse within my companies, I’ve had complaints about employees abusing their power. It’s a difficult situation to be in. If we value the employee being accused, we want to disregard the accusation. We think it would be so much easier if the problem went away and we want to assume that it was a one-time event. But we know instinctively that if we don’t deal with the situation that the problem will only get worse.

Most business leaders I know want to avoid confrontation with their staff. Complaints against staff result in difficult conversations. There’s always an element of doubt about the complaint in our minds. Even if we know that the abuse might have happened, we weigh the consequences of dealing with the situation. Sometimes, depending on the time and the other pressures we face, we might put the allegation aside until an ‘appropriate time.’

The problem with this failure by business leaders to address employee-related injustices is that it often leads to a culture within the organization that perpetuates abuse. “If he can get away with what he’s just done, then they won’t be able to do anything about my indiscretions,” employees think.

The second abuse of power might be significantly less than the first, however the consequences of a lack of accountability are substantial. Without accountability within our organizations, we lack credibility. Without credibility, we lose our respect. Without respect, our organizations become irrelevant to our stakeholders and those we need to impress.

The failures within the Catholic church, the RCMP, and other public and private organizations are rooted in a lack of accountability of our leadership in upholding justice.

The oversight of exploitations doesn’t start with multiple offences. It starts in the lapse in judgment in not addressing every individual occurrence.

As leaders of organizations, we need to stand tall and have the fortitude to deal with the challenges that face us. This can often be the toughest thing we do. But failing to do what’s right can destroy the very thing we want to protect.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.

organizations abuse

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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