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Speaking the truth: protesting a sad leadership story

A physician friend recently told me that she was depressed about her work.  It wasn’t just that her hospital was focused more on financials than healing, it was something much, much more serious to her.

Hospital executives no longer valued the physicians’ opinions. In fact, a passionate and respected department head had just been fired because of remarks made during Grand Rounds in the presence of an executive from another hospital.

“So if we speak the truth to try to improve medicine and our medical institution, we get axed,” she said. “How are we ever going to change health care if we can’t talk about the real issues? How are we going to be able to care for patients when we feel under-appreciated and demoralized? I’ve given my professional life to this institution, but seeing how we get treated for our commitment makes me think it might be time to leave.”

Today when I saw this photo from a Wall St. protester, I realized how dangerous it is for well-meaning people to speak the truth. And yet, how will we improve and grow without new ideas and the benevolent rebels with the courage to challenge assumptions and the status quo? You can’t just keep firing the rebels who speak up and expect that the rest of the organization won’t be deeply affected, which in turn affects business outcomes.

Do executives even realize that their companies have turned into fearful corporate cultures? If not, why? If they do, how are they stepping up to lead in ways that acknowledge fear and uncertainty — while recognizing bravery and truth telling in service to the organization’s vision?

In the coming months I’ll be talking with executives about leading in an age of disruption and uncertainty, as well as with benevolent rebels who have walked out of corporate positions to walk on to new organizations where their questions, opinions and passions are valued.

Is there someone you think I should interview? Suggestions gratefully welcomed!

Yes, the times are a changin.  We need great leaders and truth tellers now more than ever.