With tremendous respect to those risking their lives to make the Fukushima nuclear power station safe, they should not be there.
Accidents of this sort are not inevitable, they are the product of the culture of the organisation, since culture is defined by how an organisation is lead they are the result of a failure of leadership. Leadership defines culture and culture defines the success or failure profile of any human endeavour.
There are certain businesses and industries that seem to find it extremely difficult to escape their past and shift their culture to something more effective. Nuclear power is one of them. Nuclear energy was founded on a grand deceit, which was followed up with more secrecy.
In the post war mix of austerity and looming cold war, nuclear power was sold as a panacea – “electricity too cheap to meter” was the promise. As we have seen, the reality is “electricity too expensive to account for”. Nuclear energy has never stood up economically without government subsidy and guarantee. Why were governments willing to make these subsidies and guarantees? Because nuclear energy was a convenient by product of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons were thought to be important.
Today nuclear is being promoted again as the solution to climate change, but prospective investors still require taxpayer guarantees to cover the cost of disposing of the radioactive waste, for which we still have no answer, and for the cost of clearing up after an accident. Estimates on the number of human deaths resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear accident range from 50 to 1 million. Estimates for the cost of securing Fukushima are currently around $12 Billion, not including the cost of displaced lives and soil and water decontamination.
With it’s origins in nuclear weapons, the nuclear power industry has always had an unhealthily close and secretive relationship with governments. What might be seen as justifiable cold war military secrecy has lead to an overall culture of arrogant opaqueness and foolhardy hubris. To some extent the industry appears to see itself as so important that it is above scrutiny and above regulation.
All four of the major nuclear incidents (Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukishima, and there have been many more) were the result of human error. In all cases, not just a single mistake, but design flaws, procedural failures and poor decision making.
The secretive and hubristic nature of the nuclear industry creates a fertile environment for failure.
The opposite is also true. A culture of openness, humility, transparency and accountability is far less likely to lead to design flaws, procedural failure and poor decision making – significantly diminishing the risk profile of an organisation. So what do these terms mean as a cultural reality for business?
Openness – a desire to listen to and evaluate a diversity of ideas from a diversity of sources and implement on the basis of merit.
Humility – the desire for the talents and abilities of others to shine and be recognised
Transparency – making important information and practices externally available for scrutiny
Accountability – subjecting oneself to sanction and recognition as a result of the scrutiny
Creating such a culture requires a leadership with such confidence in themselves and their purpose, that they are not fearful of being exposed or being caught out. This is authentic leadership. Authentic leadership empowers others to be authentic too, assembles teams of talent and openly discusses initiatives looking for alternative views and voices.
This kind of culture not only makes failure less likely it also opens up the possibility for greater success, by enabling and requiring every individual to contribute their very best performance and to support those around them in delivering theirs. Contrast this to a secretive and authoritarian leadership, where people might be afraid to speak up when they notice a problem or an opportunity, or where they might prefer to fit in and stay out of sight to avoid criticism or blame.
The only reason not to be an authentic leader is because we do not understand how to be. Only a tiny minority of us have any experience of an authentic leader as a role model. In most organisations authentic leadership is counter cultural and unusual. And yet, we can learn authentic leadership and by applying it we can transform the culture of an organisation very quickly, whatever level we start at and especially if we start at the top.
Authentic Leadership is a straight forward coaching and training process that can take individual leaders and whole leadership teams on this journey to Authentic Leadership. The results have been startling, businesses where leaders are able to focus on big picture strategy, and trust an empowered organisation to look after the day to day running and innovation, even in a crisis.
My lovely client Artur Kuczera at Kraft Foods, was kind enough to write a testimonial for my Authentic Leadership approach recently.
I have added a new coaching page to my website and would love to help you build confidence, get your career, business or leadership really working for you.
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