The topical case study of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos provides an excellent backdrop for asking some pointed questions about leadership and culture. One of the great failings of Theranos was its culture of secrecy, and suppression of bad news from people who could clearly see the problems with the business.
As leaders, we need to create a culture of robust (but respectful) challenge to bring out the best in our people, but this is impossible if we ‘shoot the messenger’, or unwittingly stymie the very behaviour we are trying to promote.
Nothing kills a high performance culture faster than a leader who can’t handle dissent, disagreement, or bad news. In the case of Theranos, it led to the destruction of billions of dollars’ worth of value, and visited untold emotional and psychological damage on Theranos’ patients, customers, and employees.
If you can manage to establish a climate where your people trust you enough to contribute fearlessly, without fear of repercussions, it is like rocket fuel for your team!
If you want to dig deeper into the Theranos story, I highly recommend listening to The Dropout, created by ABC News chief business, technology and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, along with producers Taylor Dunn and Victoria Thompson.