October 24, 2021

Leadership Lessons Learned From President Obama’s Actions on the Skip Gates Incident

I know everyone is commenting on this story, so I of course have to throw my two cents in…from the perspective of leadership.

There are a few things I think we can all learn from President Obama’s words and actions.  Watch the video first, and then read my thoughts below:

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1) “Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.”

CON: When a friend is involved in something of this nature, it is critical for a leader to be extra cautious before making a statement or decision.  When friends and family are involved, a leader’s perspective can get a bit fuzzy.

PRO: I appreciate that the President said “I may be a little biased here”…if you have a bias, it’s better to state that than to just breeze over the bias.

2) “I don’t know all the facts.”

CON: It is best to not make a statement until you have all the facts…period.  This one can hang you as a leader.

PRO: Again…at least the President admitted that he did not have all the facts.

3)  “Number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home”

CON: While I realize our law enforcement professionals have some flaws and many have been accused of racial profiling, I simply don’t feel that it is appropriate to even suggest that any police officer or department acts “stupidly”.  Choose your words carefully (hastily may have been a better choice here.)

PRO: The President did not “couch” his words.  Being direct can work, but you do have to be very careful who you are speaking to and the words you use.  Many people are now saying that Obama called the Cambridge police officer,  Sgt. James Crowley,  stupid…that is not what he said.  He said the Cambridge Police acted stupidly (that is a behavior…and I don’t believe Obama was calling Crowley stupid.)

4) “As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in this society. That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet, the fact of the matter is that, you know, this still haunts us.”

CON: A sensitive button got pushed, and an assumption was drawn that this incident was related to racial profiling.   That is a very slippery slope, and if the President had done his homework on Crowley, he would have known that he has a record of speaking out against racial profiling and educating others on how to stop it.  As a leader, before you discuss sensitive subjects (race, religion), it is best to make sure that you are not speaking from the place of a “hot button”.

PRO: The President took a stand, and we need someone who is willing to take a stand right now and speak from a place of passion.

In closing, I admire President Obama for going back and calling both Crowley and Gates to the White House for a beer.  I have seen a lot of mending happen over a few drinks..

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