FE and Skills and Shame in Organisational Life – a governance perspective
It was with interest that I read the recent publications from FETL (Further Education Trust for Leadership). 2020. FE and Skills and Shame in Organisational Life and FETL (Further Education Trust for Leadership). 2020. Voices of the Shamed: The Personal Toll of Shame and Shaming in Further Education. FETL.
The first report states, ‘as a result of our research into the literature of shame, we think it reasonable to suggest that some, at least, of the shaming experienced by college leaders stems from the combination of external regulatory and public dynamics with a sense of organisational shame and loss of the ‘good self’ felt within individual colleges. The impact of the combination of regulation and media exposure drove many of our interviewees’ concerns. The sense that “we face a climate of blame rather than enquiry” was common’.
In my more recent years of working in governance in the FE sector, I have observed the experience of vulnerability, guilt, and shame being felt by chairs of governors and governance professionals, in addition to principals. The naming and shaming of these three persons in public reporting are not without consequence. It comes as no surprise then that the FETL publication refers to these three in its findings, ‘such challenges (of unreasonable and ineffective regulatory requirements) were exacerbated for some interviewees by tensions between the role of the principal and those of the board, its chair, and the clerk’.
For leaders to thrive in their roles, they have various needs that are required to be met. Common to each of the triumvirate are:
- Security needs - High levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability means that many in leadership (Principal/Chair/Governance Professional) do not feel safe and secure in their roles. As a result, many adopt coping mechanisms that have a detrimental impact on their health and well-being.
- Belonging needs – the role of a Principal/Chair/Governance Professional can be a lonely one. Without relationships that support a healthy sense of self, the role and associated pressures can diminish an individuals’ feelings of confidence and personal advocacy.
The level of mutual trust, respect, and sincerity amongst the triumvirate can, therefore, have a significant influence on the organisation.
The FETL publication also refers to a quote from Kate Webb of the Windsor Forest Colleges Group, taken from a previous TES article 1 arguing, ‘we need to make sure that failure doesn’t become a stigma’.
Yet in some cases, the culture within the boardroom stigmatises failure. So why is failure seen as something to be dismissed and not up for discussion rather than for what it is, an opportunity to learn? Governors are appointed to a board because of their expertise. Therefore, the fear of being seen to fail is a strong driver for some to remove themselves from being linked to something that fails. Successful people, as those in the boardroom are, may view failure as a personal weakness, but diagnosis of failure, in addition to support, challenge, and development, is a crucial responsibility of those in the boardroom.
Dr. Denis Mowbray talks in his post on organisational failure: questions and learning, of how different our understanding of corporate failure would be if we were to take a no blame systematic approach to investigating failure in the way the airline industry does. The fact that statistically, it is safer to fly than to drive, is because of the industry’s unwavering commitment to understanding how an incident/crash happens and the lessons that can be learned, shared, and applied. How a ‘black box’ analysis of corporate failure would yield many insights as to how behavioural governance and corporate culture influence and impact on organisational outcomes, and how the combined decisions, actions or inactions of the board and the executive (or in the case of the airline industry – the captain, second officer, and tech crew), either exacerbates or mitigates an already delicate situation. Such an approach to failure creates an opportunity for advancement of knowledge and hopefully a greater chance of the same mistakes not being repeated.
There is a rationale then for both those inside and outside the boardroom to modify their views and take a different approach to failure or, as in Dr. Mowbray’s words, we will be doomed to the life of Sisyphus, who wants that?