Margaret Heffernan is a former CEO of five businesses, author of five books in which she explores business and effective leadership, and a part-time lecturer at the University of Bath School of Management in England. She gave a series of TED talks that touch so much of what I found to withhold people from giving their best, that I feel I have to share these presentations with you.
Dare to Disagree
In this presentation Margaret ─ a great storyteller ─ gives a wonderful example of why people should dare to prove each other wrong instead of creating echo chambers. Constructive conflict, Margaret explains, is the basis of creative thinking. How else can you become a better worker if no one is telling you what you’re doing wrong? How can you expect to come up with even better ideas when no one challenges you?
However, this means we have to resist our neurobiological drive to seek out people with similar beliefs and embrace people with different backgrounds and different experiences ─ and find ways to engage with them. She warns us: this will require a lot of energy and this can only come from truly caring for the cause.
While organizations grow, so does our tendency to shy away from conflict ─ afraid of the influence of silos. “In surveys of European and American executives, 85% of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise,” Heffernan explains. “Afraid of the conflict that would provoke. Afraid to get embroiled in arguments that they did not know how to manage and felt that they were bound to lose.”
Margaret points out: “85% is a really big number. It means that organizations can’t think together.” It is because of this that, despite bringing together the best minds, we fail as executives to bring out the best in them. “The fact is that most of the biggest catastrophes that we’ve witnessed rarely come from information that is secret or hidden,” Heffernan concludes. “It comes from freely available information — but that we are willfully blind to because we can’t handle, don’t want to handle, the conflict that it proves. But when we dare to break that silence, or when we dare to see, and we create conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.”
“Openness isn’t the end, it is the beginning.”
The Dangers of Willful Blindness
This presentation is another testimony of Margaret’s outstanding ability to tell great stories. This time she zooms in on what could occur if we don’t speak out in an attempt to shy away from conflict. When we know ─ because of information that has been presented to us ─ that harm is being done but dare not to raise our concerns, we become willfully blind. Willful blindness is a legal term. It makes us an accomplish to the fact. This means we have both a moral as well as a legal obligation to speak out. Again, the examples she presented are convincing and her message is bold.