Two stories this week have resonated with me as well as creating much discussion online. The first involved a male Doctor who was jailed for ‘90 sexual assaults’ on patients during ‘unnecessary medical examinations’. The second involved the ‘former’ Finance Secretary within the Scottish Government. Both stories are very much connected through the abuse of power by the men involved, both of whom were in senior positions and who abused their power to achieve a goal.
Doctor Manish Shah was described by the trial judge as a “master of deception who abused his position of power” and who created a sense of fear amongst those who came to him for help and support.
In her recent editorial within the Holyrood magazine, journalist Mandy Rhodes wrote a piece about the ongoing story involving the former Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay. Her title “Derek Mackay – what was he thinking?” was powerful in itself however her piece has moved the conversation from the person (Mackay) to a place where we can start to ask other questions.
- Why would a man who had a great future ahead do what he did?
- Why did he feel that what he was doing was ok?
- Where’s was his fear of being challenged?
For me, all of the above questions are particular to men like Derek Mackay and Dr Shah. Mackay, as we know, was a man in a specific position of power within the Scottish Government. It’s clear from the texts that this point played a part in the whole event.
Rhodes has also made this piece very personal. He was a friend, a colleague, someone she has spent time with and respected. But it’s right she has written this piece in this way. It permits us to start to ask some really important questions and even confront some difficult truths.
Far too many stories are emerging of men in power abusing their positions. Harvey Weinstein will be the one that trips off the tongue freely due to the ongoing trial in the US. But if you look deeper there are many more, far too many.
All of those we read about are someone’s friend, a family member, a colleague. What they do may be monstrous, but they are not monsters, they are men. When we assign such words to the person, we fail to confront this plain fact.
In her piece Rhodes asks the reader a question:
What is it about men in positions of political power? Do they believe in their own invincibility or is it a desire to push risk to the limits on some rollercoaster thrill trip on the way to self-destruction?
More often than not this is about men, men with power and often in powerful positions. Do men like Mackay think about their actions? Actually, do men with power have to think about their actions? They are in positions of power after all.
Is that the simple issue here? Has power blinded Mackay and Shah or are they simply confident that they wouldn’t be found out? Did they operate knowing that challenge would be unlikely?
All of the above presents questions for all of us. Whether as leaders of organisations or as friends/family members, are we doing enough to prevent these types of incidents.
Is it easy to speak truth to power? Definitely not. Is it something we need to do? Definitely.
Whether we look at either the Shah, the Mackay or the other similar stories, all have revealed so much about the evil of men, their crimes, their abuse of power over the powerless and the veil of silence from society around these behaviours.
Whilst many men still remain silent rather than challenging the actions of other men, we cannot and must not ignore the many men who are now performing a needed role in breaking that silence. But we need more men to stand up alongside these men and women around these issues. We need men as allies not as passive bystanders.
The likes of Shah and Mackay operated in plain sight. How organisations and peer groups, indeed how governments shape their culture will go a long way to prevent these abuses of power.
We appear good at setting rules but not when it comes to creating a healthy and supportive culture. Why is this? It’s easier. Creating the culture requires effort, constant and consistent effort. Just because you feel that all is good doesn’t mean the works stops.
A healthy culture won’t happen overnight. It requires a purpose, that’s clear, that people don’t just buy into, they believe it. Culture requires constant learning and it’s in this learning that a leader can shape the behaviours they want to see in their team. Healthy culture in many ways is the shared music of the group. In a successful culture, healthy standards are both role-modelled and expected from the group.
I wanted to focus on shaping culture as the first step to prevention. Intervening in a challenging situation is difficult, often dangerous and therefore often a choice not made by those who witness abuse. If we shape culture in a way that promotes healthy behaviours, then we permit others to do the same.
I’ve come from a background of tackling violence through a lens of public health. If we look at societies (men’s) silence, we are presented with the infection that keeps violence alive in our communities and in our society.
Why do the few do so much damage? Because the many often do nothing