The recent deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers have left most Americans viscerally fraught. I personally have traversed the entire emotional terrain, becoming simultaneously furious and hopeful all in one Facebook post. Because I’ve always been the glass-half-full-of-lemonade type, I can’t help but pause in the midst of chaos and uncertainty to find inspiration in these three leadership lessons that have surfaced for me over the past several days:
1. Leverage Your Position of Power
Each one of us has an audience and platform and it has been incredible to see how citizens across the country have been using their unique position to galvanize a movement. The bystanders who pulled out their cell phones to record Sterling’s altercation with police, the NRA members demanding support for Castile who was a legal gun owner, and Beyonce who called on fans to lobby politicians have all been engaged in the same act: leveraging their position of power to create meaningful change.
2. Keep Calm and Communicate Effectively
Much attention over the past week has been paid to Diamond Reynolds and her calm demeanor during the fatal shooting of her boyfriend, Castile. She streamed the aftermath live on Facebook and can be heard referring to the officer as “Yes, sir” keeping her voice steady, asking key questions, and following his instructions, all while her 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat of the vehicle. While she was obviously not calm on the inside, her outward communication proved vital during a tragic moment. Many seasoned professionals wouldn’t have been able to execute Reynold’s level of presence during such a high intensity circumstance.
3. Embrace the Conflict
When times get tough, many people would prefer to avoid the problem or run away from it altogether, but there is a correlation between effective leadership and embracing conflict. Over the past several days leaders who are intentionally wrestling with the hard part have emerged and have become role models for all of us. In Courtney Martin’s piece “The Conversation We Must Have With Our White Children” and Donald Grady’s, a former police chief’s, Atlantic piece on the intersection of race and policing, they both grapple with the conversations that so many Americans would prefer not to have. And yet these difficult conversations are exactly the ones we need to have to build alliances across boundaries.
If there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that during the most fraught times in our nation’s history, enough people of goodwill have joined together to strengthen our democracy no matter how broken it appears at the time. I look forward to the learning, growing and healing that is to come.
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