We often think that when someone has a lot of power in an organization, they’ve become untouchable. I’m going to share 2 different stories of how power dynamics can change when people think they are untouchable. There is a moral at the end.
1st Story: Silencing the Moose
I live in Québec, Canada. In the last five days, our news has been taken over by the antics of our health minister, Dr. Gaétan Barrette. Stories of this doctor being a bully and a bulldozer with resistant doctors is legendary in these parts.
Without a doubt, our healthcare system is in shambles. Our medical crisis began in the mid-1990s when a separatist government offered early retirement to physicians and a larger-than-expected number decided to end their careers.
At the same time as thousands of doctors hung up their stethoscopes, the government cut the number of spaces in the province’s medical schools.
Needless to say, our doctors are exhausted, our patients are orphaned and our patience is used up. Exceptionally, we had three high profile doctors elected in a majority government at our last provincial election. They made a commitment to fix this beleaguered and bruised healthcare system.
Dr. Barrette is a visionary and has only four years to implement and tweak a complete revamp of this system. He has made it very clear that although he will listen, he will not waste time discussing things ad nauseam. So he has been pushing through legislation and following the vision they have created knowing that with a majority government, very little can be done to stop them.
The millions of patients without a doctor really hope this works, and we are holding our collective breaths. On the other hand, the doctors have lost complete control and their power eroded quickly. They are not happy.
Since his election, Dr. Barrette has been in the news on several occasions where doctor’s associations have claimed he is bullying and distorting the truth. It has been a case of “he said she said”. These stories died down very quickly.
Last week there was a firestorm when the director of one of our largest hospitals on the island of Montréal handed in a letter of resignation accusing Dr. Barrette of intimidation and a power grab. It was called a political crisis.
Dr. Jacques Turgeon stated that he was being told to hire Barrette’s friend as the Director of Surgery or face losing his job. Dr. X is known to be a bully and the staff was horrified at having him foisted on them as a director. Dr. Barrette opened it up when he went to the media with the letter in which he publicly asked Dr. Turgeon to “please just go back to work” and that he said no such thing.
Provincial governments have no place in directing a medical institution. Dr. Barrette had clearly overstepped his role and his power. He denied doing it and tut tutted for people to calm down and get back to work.
Dr. Turgeon is an extremely respected and valued medical professional and administrator. He has managed to turn around a hospital with many internal conflicts and people trust and love him. Within four days, 25% of the board of directors had handed in their resignations to follow Dr. Turgeon.
It had been said that Dr. Barrette’s arrogance and ego were untouchable. Many meetings were quickly held with the premier (also a highly regarded doctor) and yesterday, Dr. Turgeon stated he would be returning to work. He stated that he has been guaranteed by our premier that our government would not interfere with the administration of his super hospital.
We did not hear from Dr. Barrette during these announcements. He is in Florida on vacation now and has nothing to say to the media. The echoes of glee from the doctors’ associations are palpable.
Replacing the head of a super hospital 18 months before a new hospital is built and moved into would have been a nightmare. It took 14 months to find this guy and he was very good at his job. In the first day that this story broke, there was talk that replacing him would be hard but not impossible.
Having 25% of the board stand behind Dr. Turgeon is what flattened Dr. Barette’s bulldozer ways. Will he live to bully again? Those who live in Quebec all expect he will.
2nd Story: Empowering the Mouse
Years ago, I heard of a woman who worked in a community drug rehab center. To be able to work there, they could not use drugs or drink alcohol themselves. She had been a drug addict and had cleaned up her life. During a very difficult time she fell off the wagon. She was abruptly fired.
The entire population that used these services were furious. This recovered addict was very good at her job and had compassionately and effectively helped many of them. They picketed the drug rehab center claiming a lack of compassion.
Without clients and with a hailstorm of media at their door, the drug rehab center had to rehire the person they had fired and provide support to reintegrate her. They thought she had no power.
The Moral of These Stories
The moral of these two stories is that when facing power dynamics that are uneven, there really is strength in numbers.
More importantly, future dynamics will be different because now there are new histories to draw from. It’s like when nobody believed that it was possible to run a mile in under four minutes. Nobody tried until someone did it, and suddenly, it’s no big deal. It is the same in our belief of the power dynamics around us.
Bulldozers can be flattened. Whether the people who take a stand do it in the street or in a meeting room, being clear on the facts and standing united is the most effective way to flatten a bulldozer.
Are you thinking it’s time to roar like a mouse but you don’t know where to start? I’ve been in your shoes and I can help.