Whistle-blowers: leaders paying a price for ethical choices

Emily Wax, in the Washington Post today, tells the story of two whistle-blowers who had to transform their lives when they stepped up to tell unpopular truths, and had to step down from the powerful positions that made them privy to those secrets.

She profiles Thomas Drake, who revealed waste and fraud at the NSA, and Jesselyn Radack, who revealed the illegal interrogation of John Walker Lindh. Drake now works at an Apple Store, and Radack is an advocate and attorney for whistle blowers.

The price for standing up is stepping down, because “once you are labeled (blacklisted), you are just radioactive.” Losing more than a job, pensions and status, whistleblowers lose potential work and have to reinvent themselves in order to feed their families.

It’s a high price for ethical behavior. In Western corporate culture that praises ethical leadership principles but keeps a tight lid on unethical secrets that support the bottom line, whistle blowers are a symptom of a larger problem — the conflict between a values-based mission and actual business practices. Some whistle-blowers drop out and do their best to survive; others become activists.

Sibel Edmonds, founder of the Boiling Frogs Post: Home of the Irate Minority, blew the whistle on the FBI when she was working as a translator “for trying to expose security breaches and cover-ups that she thought presented a danger to U.S. security. Her allegations were supported and confirmed by the Justice Department’s inspector general office and bipartisan congressional investigations, but she was not offered her job back.” (from Wax’s article).

On the Boiling Frogs Post, Edmonds quotes Samuel Adams, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” She covers international news, critiques blogs and links to evidence and updates for ongoing scandals. She and her colleagues write some interesting and substantive left-of-center blogs, including recent offerings about contemporary crisis in leadership and history in Egypt, and in Brazil. She has also published a book about her experience, Classified Woman.

from blog.transparency.org

from Transparency International (blog.transparency.org)

It’s an interesting leadership question. Are these whistle blowers courageous followers in Ira Chaleff’s definition? Or by stepping up and telling the truth, do they become transformational leaders?   It’s an interesting question in the light of the floating expat status of Edward Snowden and the ongoing trial of Bradley Manning, alternately branded traitors and patriots. Whatever their leadership role, it seems they immediately part of a leadership counterculture, exiled from positions of mainstream leadership, and even citizenship, by their choice to speak out.

“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds” – See more at: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/#sthash.dMWN8MeP.dpuf
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds”
– Samuel Adams – See more at: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/#sthash.dMWN8MeP.dpuf

7 comments

  1. […] Whistle-blowers: leaders paying a price for ethical choices (leadershipspirit.wordpress.com) […]

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  2. […] (See my article about whistleblowers to put these comments into historical context…) […]

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  3. […] values and authentic selves visible (coming out of the closet, standing in the face of oppression, whistleblowing). Reimer reminds us of a practical requirement that makes ethical behavior and authenticity […]

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  4. […] experience matches past struggles and raises the stakes for whistleblowers who face difficulties after their revelations. Courageous followers are often punished for their ethics, and their integrity questioned because of […]

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  5. […] advice — but itʻs not always easy, going against the narrative tide of an organizationʻs denial! Although there may be costs, there will also be benefits, especially if a leader can find a way to weave in a better story […]

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  6. […] It’s sometimes hard for those of us who write about transformational leadership in conventional organizations and democratic cultures to credit revolutionary, rude art activism as leadership. One parallel of leaders promoting revolutionary change from within is the concept of whistleblowers as leaders. […]

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  7. […] a great idea. So, how do we do it, and keep our jobs, inside and outside the military? That’s the big question, isn’t it!? What do you […]

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