The perils of wilful blindness in leadership


Our headline plenary for the month comes from Dr. Margaret Heffernan, CEO, entrepreneur, leadership coach, TED speaker and author of multiple best-selling business and leadership books, including Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril.

In this session, we’ll learn why the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don't see – not because they're secret or invisible, but because we're wilfully blind. A failing to see – or admit to ourselves or our colleagues – the issues and problems evident in plain sight can ruin private lives and bring down entire organisations. 

Drawing from a wide range of examples both inside and outside our sector – the 2008 banking crisis, the Volkswagen emissions scandal, Oxfam and safeguarding, the Catholic Church in Ireland, the collapse of Carillion, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Kids Company – Margaret will show how they all share a single thread of commonality in wilful blindness. 

What makes us prefer ignorance? What are we so afraid of? Why do some people see more than others? And how can we change? 

To address this last question, we will explore some of the mechanisms, structures and strategies that institutions and individuals can use to combat wilful blindness and avoid joining the long list of their peers who have already fallen foul. 

Margaret Heffernan

Author, Mentor, Teacher

Dr. Margaret Heffernan produced programmes for the BBC for 13 years. She then moved to the US where she spearheaded multimedia productions for Intuit, The Learning Company and Standard&Poors. She was Chief Executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation and then iCast Corporation, was named one of the "Top 25" by Streaming Media magazine and one of the "Top 100 Media Executives" by The Hollywood Reporter.

The author of six books, Margaret’s third book, Willful Blindness : Why We Ignore the Obvious at our Peril was named one of the most important business books of the decade by the Financial Times. In 2015, she was awarded the Transmission Prize for A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn’t Everything and How We Do Better, described as "meticulously researched... engagingly written... universally relevant and hard to fault." Her TED talks have been seen by over twelve million people and in 2015 TED published Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes. Her most recent book, Uncharted: How to map the future was published in 2020.

She is a Professor of Practice at the University of Bath, Lead Faculty for the Forward Institute’s Responsible Leadership Programme and, through Merryck & Co., mentors CEOs and senior executives of major global organisations. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath and continues to write for the Financial Times and the Huffington Post.

Marcus Missen

Director of Communications and Fundraising, WaterAid

Marcus will be joining to facilitate the live Q&A with Margaret at the end of this session.

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