Tough lessons in leadership

June 28, 2010 — Leave a comment

Let me start this post with a disclaimer of sorts: I’ll be the first to admit that have an opinion on just about everything. And even though I’ve been in Arkansas for a year now, I still keep tabs on what’s going on in the Dallas area — particularly since I spent so many years in D/FW and still have many friends and colleagues there.

All that said, there are lessons we can learn from reading and watching the news. I admittedly try to limit my consumption of it, since it is clinically proven as bad for our health. Still, the events of the past nine days have been eye-opening to me — and I’ve been reminded of some tough lessons in leadership that are perhaps worth sharing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the big story from the D/FW metroplex, on Father’s Day (June 20) the adult son of the brand-spanking new Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, Sr. (in that position for about two months) killed Lancaster police Officer Craig Shaw as Shaw responded to the call of a shooting at an apartment complex. (Click here to read the original story from WFAA). According to the report, “the Lancaster officer — a five-year veteran of the force and the father of two children — was answering a ‘shooting in progress’ call around 6 p.m. when there was an exchange of gunfire.”

A 37-year-old five-year officer — a husband and father of two children — was killed on Father’s Day by the son of the new Dallas Police Chief.

OK, so it’s a bad situation already. A tragic loss of life for a family. The only officer killed in the line of duty in the history of the Lancaster department. And a pretty rough start, I’d say, for the new head of DPD, who must deal with not only the loss of an area officer who was killed by his son — but also with the loss of the son himself — also killed in the incident.

Fast forward to Sunday, June 27, after a full week of a news dominated by coverage of the incident, the aftermath, and the preparations for the funeral of a police officer.

Just when you think a situation couldn’t get any worse . . . well, it does.

(Click here for that part of the story.) Essentially, in the chief’s absence, two assistant chiefs made a grave mistake by calling multiple Dallas officers to escort the funeral procession for the chief’s son, David Brown, Jr. Apparently this assignment was not made long before the officers’ primary assignment of escorting the same-day funeral procession for the Lancaster officer who was killed in the line of duty — by the Dallas chief’s son.

With profound empathy for all involved in this terrible situation, I share the view of countless others — that this decision, regardless of the reason, was not only wrong; it was also offensive to the family of Officer Shaw. I admit that being the brother of a state trooper makes me particularly sympathetic to this salt in an open wound.

Now the escort debacle doesn’t materially change the situation even one bit. Two men are dead. Two men are buried. Many friends and family members are left to pick up the pieces and somehow move on in light of the reality of their passings.

However, this awful situation highlights some key principles of leadership, among them:

  1. Leaders must be prepared to lead. Crises happen every day in our lives. Situations demand quick response time. The problem is that when leaders lack the judgment to make sound decisions under pressure, then insult is added to injury and fuel to fire.
  2. Leaders must be willing to accept responsibility. When a gaffe as big as this funeral procession fiasco happens, ownership means saying ‘I’m sorry’ — not defending the bad decision to the nth degree.
  3. Leaders must be willing to intentionally surround themselves with other solid leaders. No individual is an island unto himself. Those who constitute a leader’s nucleus of support must be capable of stepping up to the plate and delivering effective results, consistent with the collective integrity of the organization’s members.
  4. Leaders must be willing to learn from the lessons of life. No one could have predicted something like this. Nothing can undo the damage that has been done. No words can assuage the raw hurt. Time alone does not heal wounds; it’s what we do with the time that counts. Leaders do well to reflect on their decisions in the company of others for the purpose of identifying any clouded judgments or possible blind spots.

Situations like this take time to process. Every day many of us face challenges in leadership on a different scale, but nonetheless challenges which we must be competent to handle. When people begin to view us as incompetent, lacking confidence, or belligerent, it’s probably time to start packing the bags — because leadership demands respect, and respect demands trust. Without those two essentials, one is not really leading anyone. He’s merely taking a walk.

And not a one of us is exempt from that harsh standard of evaluation. Only by the power of Christ can we lead well through the hills and valleys of life.


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