Without proper immunization, ignorance is a disease that spreads quickly and can run rampant through an organization, destroying the foundations of even the strongest leadership.

By John Gonzales

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several pieces published here on Senior Housing Forum. A piece I recently wrote, “When Leaders Lie“, garnered a significant amount of attention. So much so that I followed it up with “When Leaders Lie — Part 2“.

In short, the pieces focus on two major reasons why leaders fabricate reality — self-preservation and self-promotion. Based on the responses, these are situations with which many of us have had experiences. While I was replying to several comments about the article, I realized that I had missed a third reason — ignorance. Ignorance, not in the harsh derogatory sense, but ignorance born out of disengagement and a misplaced belief that “all is well and as it should be.”

Self-Delusions of Granduer

I’ve spent hour upon hour in board rooms with many C-level executives who confidently — but erroneously — speak of all that the company can and does accomplish: from living out its mission, to delivering outstanding care and services, all the way up to investing in employees to the degree that there is an extremely high level of engagement and satisfaction. Though not in every case, in far more than you might expect, these positions are just wrong and a misrepresentation of the truth.

While in these cases there may be no intent to deceive, a false or misleading impression is nonetheless created.

The Bliss of Self-Induced Ignorance

As a company grows, organic disengagement of the founders, owners, etc. can and does occur. This is often further exacerbated when the company begins to explore additional ventures and initiatives, which are typically championed by company’s leadership. After three decades in the industry, I can tell you that it is a rare company where the highest executives are visiting communities often enough. It is equally rare for them to have frequent contact with those outside of their inner circle. So how can they truly understand what is actually happening on the ground?

Building A Defense for Apathy

Years ago I recall being hired into an organization going through normal growing pains and the owner telling me, “The reason I’ve brought you aboard is because I can’t champion our mission on my own any longer — we’re just getting too big. I have to have people who can carry our flag honestly tell me what’s really going on in our communities and whether or not we’re executing our vision.” At that time the company had 12 communities. The owner was already hedging against ignorance.

Naked Emperors

Even being aware of this pitfall, the danger then becomes having people in the inner circle who either don’t know themselves what is truly happening on the ground — or worse, who refuse to tell leadership that the emperor has no clothes. This is not only extremely dangerous to an organization, it is sad.

Ignorance may be bliss; however, it’s a poor strategy for business and can be tragic in our industry.