Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Courageous Convictions

April 23, 2015

tusk

In 1964, Dr. Irwin Schatz, was a new cardiologist who had completed medical school just a few years prior. He read the December   issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine and was outraged.

An article that described a syphilis experiment on uneducated African American men who lived in Tuskegee, Alabama was so startling he said, “I couldn’t believe what I had read… but the message was unmistakable.”

Researchers in the Tuskegee Clinical Study deliberately withheld treatment for a group of poor, Black sharecroppers. Of the 600 men enrolled in the study about two-thirds had already contracted syphilis. Although penicillin was known as a proven treatment for the disease, uninformed participants were told they had “bad blood” and the antibiotic was withheld. Those conducting the study aimed to observe the evolution of the disease in untreated human subjects.

For Schatz, this raised huge concerns about the denial of treatment, racial discrimination and morality. He wondered how doctors trained not to harm others could intentionally deny care. Dr. Schatz wrote a short, strong letter to the study’s author. He directly challenged the moral judgment of the Public Health Service and doctors associated with the effort.

At the time, Schatz was a young professional criticizing an investigation overseen by leading figures in America’s public health system. In 2009, he was honored for actions that were, “to say the very least, potentially harmful to his career.”

The Tuskegee Study is well known, now, as one of the first U.S. examples of flagrantly unethical and unacceptable human research. It was conducted over a period of 40 years and mirrored the medical experiment atrocities by Nazis during WW II. In the 1970s, Schatz’s letter was discovered. An investigation by the New York Times found the letter was received, shared with senior management, and its merit promptly dismissed.  His brief communication framed a vital national debate over patient’s rights and standards for human subjects. It also exposed the deeply destructive implications of racism.

“His style was that you just do the right thing and move on, then you do the right thing again and just move on,” said his son.

Dr. Schatz, 83, died a few weeks ago. His legacy offers us a great example: leadership requires courageous action grounded in clear convictions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: www.pwkinc.com

Avoid The Ugly Grip Of Groupthink

May 4, 2014

sheep

Beware when a group assumes we know everything we need to know.

Why?

Not long ago big US banks and other financial institutions sold risky derivatives. They were high-risk sub-prime mortgages divided into investment “opportunities.” After the economic meltdown they created, a salesman was asked who would want to buy these. He replied: “Idiots.”

History shows very smart people discard clear signals about value and risk. In the desire for a big return, investors chose to emphasize what could support their choice; they ignored evidence. It blossomed into self-deception and then spread among peers. This is groupthink. It is dangerous because the focus is on protecting an unfounded treasured opinion. This ensures shared blind spots and ultimately generates bad decisions. In contrast, a healthy team provides multiple perspectives in candid, independent contributions. When information flows freely – it is more likely good decisions are made.

Because it’s effective and predictable, groupthink is consciously engineered. Too often it happens in crucial personnel selection and civic cheerleading that obfuscates challenges or accountability. A classic example was the decision to invade Iraq based on imaginary “weapons of mass destruction.” Sexism and racism rely on groupthink, too. They are efforts to protect a position that become habitual and are normalized.

Groupthink can happen in any situation where decision-makers are insulated. One or several things occur to feed it. The group is fooled by unreliable people, there’s failure to ask provoking questions and data is ignored (or skewed).The risks of insulation underscores the value of transparency. Because self-deception is so common, consciously steering past shared blind spots is vital in managing for results.

We can disarm the grim implications of groupthink by these tactics:

• Ask others to think about their thinking (meta-cognition),

• Spotlight what might get buried by bias, indifference or suppression,

• Assure quality information from multiple methods,

• Actively seek diverse as well as contrary opinion, and

• Surface assumptions.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See: http://www.pwkinc.com


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