In “Speaking Truth to Power: A White Paper,” James O’Toole addresses the risky dynamic of challenging leadership in the context of business and governmental structures. His premise argues for a “culture of candor” that demands leaders to hear the critique that is often difficult. O’Toole offers ethical boundaries for leaders and those seeking to challenge the powers that be. Citing a negative and a positive example, O’Toole concludes, “managers in companies with healthy cultures were constantly willing to rethink even their most basic assumptions through a process of constructive dissent.” The author clarifies the broad concept of transparency when he gives specific applications to make it real: “egalitarian access to information, not punishing those who constructively demonstrate imperial nakedness, not rewarding spurious loyalty, and empowering and rewarding principled contrarians.” The author builds a strong case for the practice to benefit organizations and individuals alike. He also demonstrates the detrimental effects upon structures that did not allow truth to be spoken to those in power.
Two ideas from the article prompted ongoing thoughts in my mind. First, O’Toole contradicts the long-held male-dominant, unchallenged leadership model. In contrast, he champions “leaders who possess the “feminine” virtues of humility, inclusion, vulnerability, service to others, and respect for all people.” In our first semester, Dr. Clark offered a similar critique of the strong, natural leader profile with similar descriptions of a better leadership effect. O’Toole shows his disdain for my country’s current state of leadership when he states, “Americans are getting the kind of leadership our society celebrates.” This criticism aims at the independent, macho, abrasive, unopposed leader who goes it alone. Such isolated and caustic leadership works in movies but often fails elsewhere due to an unwillingness or inability to hear healthy dissent. The skewed dynamic described by the author can exist in any organization. If I had more time, I would check the correlation O’Toole makes in the business realm to the church world. I wonder if churches dominated by patriarchal leadership structures are experiencing something better, worse, or about the same as those of egalitarian structures regarding health, growth, and staff retention. I assume that there is a growing resistance to male-dominated church leadership structures.
Second, O’Toole’s argument for a culture of candor is an obvious need in many cases. The phrase “speaking truth to power” reminded me of its usage at the Desmond Tutu Museum in Cape Town. The church’s role in opposing the laws of apartheid played a crucial role in overthrowing it. Clearly, there are times when leadership needs to be critiqued, even replaced. When I started on the ministry staff, I was an associate pastor. I can remember times of sharing critique and having that dismissed. The result was disheartening. In the years I’ve served as a senior leader, I can only guess how many times I’ve led others to feel that same way. I would like to believe I’ve grown in allowing, even structuring, ways for people to critique any part of what the staff and I do. I fully accept his challenge, and I agree with his observation of reluctance on the part of leaders to hear what they do not want to hear. It is hard not to take critique personally in any context.
However, I also remember times of critique that did meet with the ethical or intentional direction O’Toole describes. Defensive leaders employ two tactics to fend off organizational dissidents: challenge their loyalty and dismiss them as malcontents. As I read that, I agreed with the concern he raises, but it also reminded me of people in my own leadership experience who were advancing another vision or simply critical. John wrote in his first epistle that “they went out from us, but they were not of us.” (I John 2:19 ESV) Organizations of all kinds contain people who are not on board with the direction and seek to change it. Perhaps in their minds, they were speaking truth to power. However, I believe leadership also receives opposition described by Friedman that is produced by an anxious system, especially in times of adaptive change. The Pharisees challenged Jesus, but were not “speaking truth to power.” They sought to protect their position and power. That happens in organizations of all kinds. Tod Bolsinger quotes Ronald Heifetz’s direction to leaders, specifically leading change, the need to see the big picture and hear from people within the organization. One mark of leadership with a culture of candor includes approachable leaders who genuinely listen to those with questions and concerns.
I believe O’Toole would also say that some people sometimes need to leave organizations. No article can include everything on a given topic, and the author’s intent is to help the development of healthy organizations in a way reminiscent of Leahy’s An Everyone Culture. If I could ask O’Toole one question, it would be: “in light of the need for a culture of candor, how does a leader distinguish someone legitimately speaking truth to power versus someone with a different agenda?” As O’Toole cautions about transparency behaviors, they are “easier said than done.” May God grant leaders the wisdom to build organizational health and weed out organizational disease.
 James O’Toole, “Speaking Truth to Power: A White Paper” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, last modified, October 15, 2015, accessed November 29, 2022, https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/business-ethics/resources/speaking-truth-to-power-a-white-paper/.
 Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 153.
 O’Toole, “Speaking Truth to Power.”