Leadership and Whistleblowing

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 03 October 2018   |   By Isang Lekhutile

Isang Lekhutile

The Workplace

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 The past Friday while waiting for a flight to Botswana, I decided to buy a Leadership Magazine (September Edition) and The Johannesburg Stock Exchange Quarterly Magazine to keep my mind occupied. I am not really keen on travelling and by all means, I usually try to have a book or magazine to read. While sitting by one of the restaurants at the Airport and perusing my magazines, I came across a very interesting article which caught my attention. The topic is one of the most avoided and hated subject in organisations. Few organisations wouldn’t even try to mention it in anyhow. Worst case scenarios are the churches. In fact, I have to challenge one of the Church Council Committee members about the topic and enquire why such a big religious conservative church doesn’t have it. I know that from his guts he will comment, constructively discuss and offer his opinion on this topic. I wonder why so many Christians trust many men of the cloths and yet have fallen victims of their corrupt practices from our very hard earned little cash. By the way, I am one of the very stingy chaps especially if no explanation and purpose is advanced for collection of money. Reading about the topic got my mind busy than I anticipated. I quickly regathered my thoughts and acknowledged that hardly a week would not pass by without articles being published on corruption and wrongdoings of government officials and other top private business individuals.

I fully support private media and acknowledge their good job in Botswana. They have exposed deep corruption cases which have taken a deep cut in government budget. Private media are now doing more policy and to me this is an effort to be commended. I am just short of words. A week never goes by without corruption news being reported. Some of these cases are not new and could have been reported well on time, but due to lack of structure and support of whistleblowing practices, a lot of cases are reported while the damage has already been done. The topic I read while waiting for my flight was whistleblowing. Fortunately, or unfortunately I met my uncle whom we later set in the same row during our flight. Interestingly, I didn’t open up to him about the topic that caught my attention but our conversation touched so many topics and corruption and whistleblowing came in. What a coincidence!!! I tried to find the connection between leadership and whistleblowing. Organisations are made of leaders who are mandated to govern and adhere to set business targets set by board of directors. Governance involves policing as well. 

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It always perplexes me why organisations and leaders are very slow to engage on whistleblowing topic. Whistleblowing is now very relevant and important control mechanism in organisations due to high rise of commonness and concealment of all sort of misconduct by employees. The former US President Barak Obama once said “The only people who don’t want to disclose the truth are the people with something to hide”.  Former American Community Leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “He who passively accepts evil is much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it”. The mentioned quotes from two Great American men form the base and foundation why we need to encourage whistleblowing in our organisations. Any business, regardless of the size and location will always encounter potential risk of loss of business through acts of theft or wrongdoings of any form.

Even a newspaper publishing company has its own risk to manage. How much trust do you have with your delivery person? What happens between the office and delivery bay? A short delivery distance from Tlokweng to Riverwalk is a high risk to affect your business to liquidate. An overnight delay from Gaborone to Mochudi can drain over thousands of Pulas from your company. Is the HR Boss hiring relatives in the organisation? Is promotion done on merit or we get our friends and cousins in comfortable positions for nothing? These cases are real and happening. This can happen right under your nose if you do not have controls to manage the process, and worst if you do not have the whistleblowing policy in the organisation. Gone are the days when organisations could exclusively depend on code of conducts and employee handbooks to manage and control unethical behaviour. Today’s business operations are totally different from the past and so many opportunities tempt employees to engage in some dishonest activities. Many of organisational wrongdoings damage organisation’s financial performance and reputation to the dot. I think it’s worth to highlight briefly the history before going deep with the subject. Literature on whistleblowing informs that the subject came more to the surface in the 1970s (Near & Miceli 1985). Other writers observe that the subject may date back as far as 50 years ago and by then the whistleblowers were considered informers or discloser actors. Even modern writers of the subjects are not too far from traditional writers on definition, clarification and elements of whistleblowing. A number of writers have defined this sensitive subject in different contexts, yet having the same meaning. According to Akers et al (2007), Whistleblowing involves reporting an act of wrongdoing in organisation to internal or external resource. Other writers such as Camerer defines whistleblowing as informing the organisation of any act of wrongdoing that happened or still happening. Daft (2006) further says that whistleblowing is when an employee discloses of unethical, immoral and theft to the employer. Whistleblowing is a process which involves investigation to verify report or disclosure of an event.

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 What is the role of leadership in whistleblowing? Part of the responsibility of the leadership is protection of organisational assets and more importantly the reputation. Reputation is priceless and it is easy to lose and very difficult to regain. Reputation of hundred years can be destroyed by a one minute mistake. Good reputation is more valuable than money or asset of the organisation. Implementation of effective internal systems of reporting should be one of the priorities of ethical leadership. The initial controls should be suggested through the whistleblowing policy that will outline and clearly state acts classified as unethical, malpractices and illegal. The internal control system must have commitment from leadership, communication and protection of whistleblowers. It is the duty of employers to protect employees whether as whistleblowers or not. These internal systems are hotlines or tip offs, mail boxes and procedures. It is critical for leadership to set the tone at the top and this calls for ethical leadership to promote the culture. Leadership must encourage culture of openness, transparency, honesty and reinforcement. Ethics training and awareness are also very key in making the system work efficiently. Leadership is also responsible for ensuring that the policies are adhered to and implemented as well. Other organisations through their ethical leadership have outsourced services of hotline and tip offs. A classical case that leaders should learn from is the Enron case (read and search about the story).

He who says does not have sin should cast the first stone. Whoever says is free from sin should take the first step. One of the challenges of leaders in organisation is corruption, sexual abuse to subordinates and women and favouritism. Most leaders career succumbed due to unethical practices. Leaders who have skeletons in their closets mostly have a challenge to walk chest out and promote the ethical culture. If the fish is rotten at the head, the rest of the body is a waste. If leadership is sinful and aberrant, expect the worst from the employees. Employees just like kids in the family, copy the behaviour of their leaders. You can’t expect employees to be ethical if the leaders are not and most organisations including those in Botswana business environment have failed to discipline employees for misconduct because some leaders are even worse off than their employees. Leaders should inspire and be models to employees. Ethical leadership automatically promotes ethical practices by way of conduct and talk. This translates to employees to live up to the behaviours of their leaders and acknowledge wrong and right. I am thinking of our Leaders in Botswana who have made headlines for their unethical conduct and some of their organisations need strong implementation of whistleblowing policies. Independent researchers in South Africa and Africa highlight that there is increase in whistleblowing in most African countries such South Africa and Botswana. In addition, the majority of whistleblowers are internal and this is a positive step. I am therefore encouraging leaders in Private and State Owned Enterprises to implement internal controls such a whistleblowing. Earnestly, we need these in order to reduce corruption and other unethical practices in our organisations. A supportive environment must be created and organisations should be ethically sensitive in creating accommodating culture of whistleblowing. Proper communication is also key from leadership to assure whistleblowers protection. Finally, as employees and leaders we need to count our blessings and name them one by one. Comparing oneself to the other only leads to lack of satisfaction and this breeds corruption and greediness. My advice is simple, the little you have, just appreciate after all you can’t have everything you wish. Just accept the life you have. We all can’t be rich and we all can’t be managers. This is the golden principle of life and bible. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. It’s never too late to change your habits. Wishing Botswana and its citizens a Happy 52nd independence. To all the drivers, please be responsible and obey the road signs. Enjoy your holidays responsibly. 



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