23 years after the most terrible tragedy at Hillsborough, where 96 fans were crushed to death due to poor crowd management by the police, a independent report has finally uncovered the truth. Now the families of the victims are seeking justice, they want to see ‘heads roll’ from the leaders of the police who spent so long covering up. What has sent Britain into shock is that another of our institutions has been revealed as favouring cowardice, cover-up and lies in their leadership.
The families are asking themselves “why did the police act in such a despicable way following the disaster”. The police response has been shown to have caused as many as 40 additional deaths. It’s becoming clear a lack of core leadership qualities propelled the police chiefs into a position that left them smearing the names of the dead in order to protect their own backs.
The Hillsborough report came out the same week I was reviewing the latest version of Marcum and Smiths (authors of Egonomics) work, Catalyst, and their ideas really resonated regarding the failure of leadership displayed during and following the disaster.
They noted that great leaders promote three qualities sorely lacking in the police in this affair: Confidence; Curiosity; and Candour.
Marcum and Smith do not see confidence as one’s innate belief in one’s own omnipotence. They refer to a pure confidence that allows leaders to accept they are fallible, and accept they can make mistakes and errors. These are the hallmarks of genuine confidence. The lack of pure confidence in the commanders on that day, and following the disaster, led the aftermath to be so deadly and painful.
In Catalyst, Marcum and Smith demonstrate that the Ego will give us early warning signs that it is negatively impacting our decision making. Defensiveness, showing off and competitiveness are all signs the ego may be at play. In this case defensiveness crept in early. Cover up, inaction and slur followed as the police became incapacitated by the fear of accepting errors. Instead the police worked hard to pass the blame to the fans who were dying on the pitch, as they blocked ambulances from helping them.
Instead of seeking the truth through curiosity, defensiveness and ego took over the Police’s mind-set. From blatant lying to doctoring of evidence, those employed to protect us from harm conspired to protect us from truth. The police culture of defensiveness over curiosity may not have caused the tragedy, but may have contributed to many of the deaths on the day, and much of the pain that followed.
Finally, candour compliments a leader’s confidence and curiosity. It is the lack of that candour that has blighted so many lives following the tragedy. It is hard to believe that 18 years has passed for many of the families of this disaster as the lack of candour has made it hard for them to move on, instead spending all this time and energy battling to find the truth.
What is needed in Police Force today is the same as we need throughout all areas of society – Real Leaders. Leaders not interested in protecting themselves or the status quo. Real leaders who have the confidence to admit they are human and the curiosity to discover what can be done to make a difference around them. Leaders honest enough to seek truth through candour, and with the ability to listen to the people around them.