Leadership is an interesting topic. We all seem to think we know what it is and can identify when it’s lacking, but often have different definitions of what it means. It gets even more challenging when you have different sides with competing agendas/world views clashing with one another. Recent events in Baltimore have put a spotlight on how difficult and important leadership can be at times. I’ve heard and read many opinions about what’s lacking and/or should be done by local leaders to mitigate the crisis. Many also want to turn this into a black and white issue both literally and figuratively. However, we all need to be careful about jumping to simple conclusions about complex societal problems. Social unrest doesn’t happen overnight and then just flame out. Until it is addressed, it continually simmers beneath the surface waiting for trigger events to bubble over. Unless we learn from and grow through these events, they will only reappear with starker consequences.
I have spent many years studying leadership in the public, non-profit and for-profit sectors. While there are obvious differences between sectors regarding goals, objectives and priorities, the basic tenets of leadership are still the same. In the case of what’s unfolding in Baltimore, I’d hope our leaders would do as follows:
- Lead by example and role model constructive behaviors;
- Don’t let their emotions rule their actions;
- Make sure their public communication is unifying rather than divisive;
- Stick to their principles of fairness and justice and do what’s right even when it is hard;
- Don’t let the bad actions of a few penalize the many;
- Listen to alternative points of view rather than shutting down their mind to other opinions – sometimes what we need to learn is hard to hear;
- Focus on solutions not just problems;
- Whenever possible, strive to achieve win-win outcomes for all affected parties;
- Weed out/marginalize opportunists from their ranks who behave contrary to the public good;
- To the greatest degree possible, avoid using force or coercion to make their points – violence should always be the last response;
- Appeal to the better nature of their followers rather than stoking the flames of unrest or retribution.
I don’t claim to know all the facts leading up to the recent demonstrations and violence that happened 50 miles from my doorstep. And, I don’t trust the media to provide an objective analysis. What I do know is that what’s happened seems to have triggered some deep divisions that exist within our society that don’t seem to be going away. There is a reason supporting demonstrations popped up so quickly in other cities. What we need now more than ever is LEADERSHIP from our public, nonprofit and business leaders to calm the flames of discontent and shift the pent-up energy towards more productive ends.