Practical Advice Regarding Leadership at This Time of Crisis

Minneapolis had a failure of leadership last week, the state of Minnesota did as well. Now cities are on fire across the country. Here’s what needs to happen:

  1. Arrest the three police officers who did nothing while Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. It’s not enough that they’re fired.
  2. Everyone in Chauvin’s chain of command needs to be demoted and made ineligible for future promotion (at best). There was a tolerance for the brutality this police officer had exhibited previously, which was tolerated and led directly to the murder of George Floyd. The witnessing police officers felt it necessary to either be callous about it, or supportive, or afraid to do anything. Regardless, there was a direct line between leadership, expression of values and this murder.
  3. Anyone who ever gave Chauvin a good evaluation needs to be investigated. Anyone who was involved, however peripherally (Amy Klobuchar), needs to reconsider their situation in life.
  4. Minnesota’s Governor Walz should address the rampant problems with racist law enforcement on the state level and provide guidelines for future state funding to municipalities, just like the federal government forced a nationwide speed limit in the 1970s (by withholding money).

Governor Walz also needs to publicly apologize for describing people demonstrators as “outside agitators“. After corrections to his initial false information about arrests was made public, Walz quietly backtracked his comments. The protesters were majority local. As they are across the country. It is probably impossible for him to regain credibility with many Minnesota citizens, but he needs to investigate why his state officials passed him this bad information. I suspect white supremacists.

If you are a leader of any large organization, I suggest the following:

  1. Make sure of your “facts.” If you watch or listen to Fox, or read a Murdoch newspaper, do some preparation because you have filled your mind with information that doesn’t represent your constituents (customers, employees, shareholders). You are bound to communicate in a way that will offend people- maybe unintentionally, but damage to productivity is real, can be measured and should get you fired in this ESG age.

If you don’t have any (or very little) diversity in your immediate direct reports, it’s not too late to make some friends who can help you. But you must provide a safe environment to give you honest feedback; if you’re successful you will hear some things that will be really unpleasant. Don’t wait until the problem is prominently described in social media or the press.

  1. Forget about being “nice” or “conciliatory” at this point. There are cities burning because we were all able to watch how Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed (handcuffed) George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for eight minutes, even after he cried for his mother — and watch the murderer not be arrested for days afterward — stacked on top of the dozens of other law enforcement atrocities that were covered up before the smartphone era, “nice” is now offensive. The only effective communication about this horrendous situation is direct and blunt. State values, make “tolerance” a four letter word. You either stand for something or you will be consumed by the monster you have fed and nurtured by being “tolerant”. Read Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Especially the part about white moderates. Read it twice.
  2. Review your communications personally. I received an email on Friday from the chief executive of an organization I am associated with that so personally offended me, that I would have resigned my position, had he not previously announced his retirement. I’m sure he thought the communication was a pleasant little “good news”piece. But it was offensive, paternalistic, effectively racist and downright creepy — in context to the national news there is no apology possible. And I don’t care when it was written, who sent it, what the software did or any other excuse. Senior leadership doesn’t get honest feedback often, this person is very thin skinned. I’ll bet he was sandbagged. Don’t be him.

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