5 Surprising Leadership Lessons in Light of Ferguson


This is a guest post by Chester Goad. Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and former US Congressional staffer. He is co-author of Tennessee’s “Dyslexia Is Real” law and author of, “Purple People Leader: How to Protect Unity, Release Politics, & Lead Everyone. He has been quoted in a variety of media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo Tech, US News, and more. Learn about Dr. Goad at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com.

When I write an article, I search for a way to connect it to my life.   Readers appreciate connections that relate issues to their lives. Lately, I’ve been particularly troubled with the number of crises our nation is currently experiencing. Having just emerged from a particularly ugly election season, many issues continue to divide America. The Ebola crisis, ISIS, and immigration come to mind, and just this week, the nation saw further deterioration regarding the Grand Jury’s decision in Ferguson.

So, I planned to write about Ferguson, but for the life of me, I’ve struggled to connect it to my own personal experiences. Perhaps what is most striking to me, is that I CAN’T relate it to anything I’ve experienced. I’m not a citizen of Missouri. I’m not an African American male, and I’m not a law enforcement officer. So I’m not even going to attempt to offer my feelings or opinions on that. However, I’m an American, as are many of my readers, and I’m hopeful that one day we can talk about important issues in this country without fear or mistrust. So I thought I’d write about that in light of all that’s going on.

Like many Americans I’m convinced we’re experiencing a serious leadership drought. While people struggle for answers to what we’re seeing, feeling, or experiencing, we’re longing for genuine leaders who inspire and offer active solutions to real problems–something elected leaders on all sides have been unable to do. Have you seen the approval ratings? So it’s up to us to lead from wherever we are.

You don’t have to be elected to be leader. You have the ability to lead from the platform you’ve been given, in this very moment for such a time as this. Everywhere I went this week, people seemed to be talking about the decision in Ferguson from every angle. In restaurants, in the doctor’s office, and most notably at work. Everyone seems to have an opinion. And many have strong opinions. So how do you lead effectively in the midst of tragic or difficult national events? How does your team work through issues and still get the work done?

The most effective thing any leader can do during difficult times is to protect his or her leadership integrity, protect the ability to maintain trust, and lead all the members of the team regardless of differing views. This is your job. You wouldn’t be a leader unless someone first trusted you to lead the team effectively–in good times and bad. How you respond and react matters.

In light of challenging current events such as the tragic events in Ferguson, here are 5 leadership lessons to help you lead during difficult times.

  • Remain mindful of your personal biases: Perspective is everything. We view things through the lenses of our own personal biases. That includes our socio-political views, socio-economic backgrounds, spirituality, education, family upbringing, race, and culture. Leaders must not only be mindful of their own biases, but they must accept that others are viewing life and making decisions based on their own. A steady mindfulness of this will help us lead with less bias.
  • Exercise and model restraint: A thoughtful leader sticks to the facts as they are presented, and resists the urge to jump to conclusions, make hurried decisions, or voice opinions until all the facts are in. When we hear others repeat what they “heard” in the media, we should remember that news was gathered and filtered through reporters’ own personal lenses and opinions. It’s best for leaders to get their information from diverse media outlets. Accuracy is often somewhere in the middle. Leaders should exercise restraint and guard against a developing atmosphere of half-truths while being careful not to come off as indifferent to the situation. It’s up to you to keep your team focused on your goals and mission.
  • Address Negative Rhetoric Immediately. A leader should encourage open communication and protect free speech. At the same time, a strong leader does not tolerate unhealthy or disrespectful verbal behaviors. There’s no time to waste when it comes to protecting the unity of your team. Nip toxic conversations directly, and bear in mind that when circumstances and emotions are raw, people can be hypersensitive. A leader keeps an adequate amount of grace in the toolbox.
  • Provide an alternative outlet to channel energy, passion, and anxiety: Encourage positive interaction with the team. Find ways to rally around a common cause that’s non-divisive. The holidays offer up plenty of opportunity to focus on others. Sponsor a child, provide a dinner, or perform community service together. It’s difficult to focus on things that divide when we’re meeting needs and serving others. A cohesive team is a more productive team.
  • Don’t pretend to know how others feel. When team members trust you enough to open up a personal dialogue with you, listen objectively. Resist the temptation to share your opinions and stories while wounds are fresh lest you appear to devalue their experience or pain. When pain is raw people don’t want to hear your story, (that may come later), for now just listen. You don’t have to agree, with everyone’s philosophical or political opinions but offering a non-judgmental ear doesn’t require that does it? Remember it’s not about you.

Bearing these 5 things in mind will make you a stronger leader through difficult times, and will help build valuable trust capital. Leaders who release personal bias for the sake of the team, fortify the team for future storms. Such a leader will produce like-minded leaders helping end the leadership famine we’re experiencing.