Effective leaders ask good questions, but too many people in charge don’t ask questions. After all, if you don’t ask the question you can always deny knowledge.
‘We assume whistleblowers are telling senior management what has been kept from them by middle managers too keen to please or too fearful’
Americans call this “plausible deniability”, I call it wilful blindness and selective deafness − “I didn’t know some of my very senior managers were walking away with million-pound pay offs. I didn’t ask the details of individual packages. I was assured all payments were in accordance with contracts and practice with in the service.”
If waiting list targets are being met and the service is delivering the required budget savings, why would you ask what impact this is having on patient safety? Because you don’t want to know the answer.
We assume whistleblowers are telling senior management what has been kept from them by middle managers too keen to please or too fearful for their own jobs to report bad news. The truth is the board and senior managers knew enough not to ask.
Covering their backs
After a series of scandals exposing bad practices, an assistant director challenged a large group of managers to explain how this was possible when the organisation had been for years spending millions on staff training. No one said anything: this was clearly a rhetorical question, more about the senior management team covering there backs and letting it be know if management heads were going to roll then it wouldn’t be theirs.
‘“Do you receive one to one, formal monthly supervision?” Needless to say, no staff survey ever asked that question’
I, however, was young and naive and suggested it was lack of one to one supervision. How could this be, the assistant direcotr replied,when we have a clear policy only recently reiterated by the senior management team that all staff should receive a monthly supervision session.
I persisted: “Yes, but every manager here knows that doesn’t happen.” To which the AD said: “Is there anyone here who doesn’t provide their staff with regular, formal supervision in line with the senior management teams expectations?”
No hands were raised, no words spoken. “So who are these managers then?” he asked me in this room full of managers. Now I was naive, not stupid. I told them it was easy enough to find out − we just send an anonymous questionnaire to every member of staff with one question: “Do you receive one to one, formal monthly supervision?”
Needless to say, no staff survey ever asked that question.