Rotting fish and leadership

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has been obsessed by Leadership for a long time. Leadership is important to establish safe and health workplaces but there is certainly a lot more to change than waiting for the boss to see the light. In many of these discussions, someone will use this phrase to emphasize the importance of leadership:

A fish rots first from the head

This is a biologically suspicious statement that SafetyAtWorkBlog has been eying to verify or dismiss for several years, unsuccessfully. A new fact checking website site drawing on the scientific community has been established and SafetyAtWorkBlog recently posed this question to

Does a fish rot from the head?

Let’s see what the experts say but in the meantime, please post your thoughts and comments on the question below.

Kevin Jones

Categories executives, Leadership, myths, OHS, safety, safety culture, Uncategorized

5 thoughts on “Rotting fish and leadership”

  1. When purchasing whole fish I’ve been advised to look at the eyes. Are they sunken in? If so, don’t buy it, it’s not fresh enough. Last time I looked, the eyes were situated in the head of the fish.

    1. Peter, I will interpret your advice as I should look deeply into the eyes of the next CEO I meet. Challenge accepted. 🙂

  2. The fish rots from the head metaphorically if not technically! Companies with good WHS are companies where leadership and management actually care about safety. (Ditto discrimination, bullying and the like)

    1. That may be the case but using a cliche that may not be technically true devalues the “truth” that leadership is critical to organisational change. It also is a diversion.

      Why use a cliche? Why not say what is behind the cliche? For instance a CEO could say “It is my due diligence, it is my ethical behaviour and it is my awareness and skills that will provide the sustainable basis for this company on which workers, customers, investors and stakeholders all rely.”

      I would prefer CEOs and others be more direct about their own accountability than talking (inaccurately?) about fish.

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