Leading and Bias

As I thought about Reading for Leading this week, I asked someone, “Is there anything else to say about Ferguson?” They said, “No!”

We’re weary, aren’t we?

Weary of the ripping story we’ve had with us since the ’60s, since, well since the Civil War, well since Thomas Jefferson.  It’s the great American wound, the great American affront.

Although African Americans have a special claim on Fannie Lou Hamer’s* words, I suspect we all can resonate with being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

But a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And if you’re still with me, I wish to make only one point about LEADERSHIP:

Fannie-Lou-Hamer-PosterKeep listening.  Listening to what’s being said. But to do that we have to struggle to separate ourselves from all the “noise” in our own heads.  Michael Eric Dyson eloquently challenged us in Sunday’s New York Times. Writing about how many African Americans saw the same killing as many non-African Americans, but they DIDN’T see the same thing. “Another unarmed teenager,” or a “demon” criminal rushing at a cop.  Quoting Dyson: “These clashing perceptions underscore the physics of race, in which an observer effect operates: The instrument through which one perceives race — one’s culture, one’s experiences, one’s fears and fantasies — alters in crucial ways what it measures.”** (emphasis added).

Justice, inclusion, wholeness, mercy, kindness, productivity, diversity — if leaders cherish these, then leaders must learn to get some perspective on their own — and their “majority” followers’ — filters, their “instruments” as Dyson call them, which dictate what they will see and how they will process it.

As we do this as best we can, then Michael Brown and his family and Ferguson and all of America — sick and tired though we are — will really be able to rest in peace.

With much of America divided by our “instruments” of perception, what will you do today to

Lead with your best self?

* Hamer (1917-1977) was the 20th child born to sharecropper parents. She was sterilized by the State of Mississippi without her consent or knowledge, arrested and beaten nearly to death.  Yet guided by her Biblical values and brutal experiences she championed justice and fought for voting and civil right until her premature death.

** http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/opinion/sunday/where-do-we-go-after-ferguson.html


  • Yes we are weary and tired. It’s funny because resolve and seeing the finish line usually gives more energy-right. I get a little pep in my step when I know I’m nearing to the end. Solutions bring peace, rest, fairness and resolve. In the absence thereof, resolve in missing. Is that a deliberate act against humanity. What’s the litmus test? I suggest we evaluate how truthful we are with each other in our professions. How righteous are we in our behaviors.

    I think you are on to something when you talk about perception. Remember Matthew, Mark, Luke, John…The Gospel, all a type of today’s journalist with different perspectives and accounts about Jesus.

    So when I see these words (Justice, inclusion, wholeness, mercy, kindness, productivity), I realize that indeed we have a different view based on our experiences. However every person can identify with “pain”. Everyone can identify with wanting “humanity” to be a positive reflection in our lives and wanting to mitigate the contrary. I challenged my family this weekend as we talked about these topics. I said we have to do better and we really have a lot to work on because we always respond to the symptoms and never look to mitigate the issue before the symptoms reappear. Of course it is not as simple as it appears but there is simplicity in a steadfast approach to build better families which lead to better communities which lead to better societies and social norms within a local framework that can branch and extend itself to state and global civility voiding and mitigating racism, discrimination, crime and etc…I challenged my family to look at their spirit of success vs. confusion and I submit to leaders in our societies (government, non-profit, for-profit, public, private and corporate) to look at the traditions that create systemic behaviors that hurt innocent and expecting people. That is why I cherish family because we are a small cluster of what is often a global phenomenon. However, in that understanding I do know when it is important to change traditions that are not productive, profitable (even in spirit, love, finances, integrity) in order to derive the better behavior and response. It is a leadership perspective to know how to shift-to make quality decisions in a short amount of time.
    To have someone attack and assault your life- such as sterilization and deception is tragic and we see these types of behaviors in many scenarios. Therefore what needs to change…apathy. Who sterilized Fannie Lou Hamer, the next door neighbor –nope? That is why leadership has to know when to shift and create new traditions because the old did not stay within the arc of the moral compass it straddled the line in an egregious act of disregard to humanity and profession.
    I’m not talking about immaturity per se. I’m talking about when we have to make professional decisions that bear out competence because we still believe in “understanding” who , what, where, when, and why. There are people who don’t like to ask questions of today’s issues and there are those who can withhold truth because leadership did not require competence.
    Keep in mind I understand the separation of Church & State. I also understand that the spirit of the law and letter of the law are not antagonistic but should work in concert together to support each other in making citizens safe. That is the reason I challenged my family on evaluating their spirit of success vs. spirit of confusion and why leadership needs to know how to make quality decisions in a short amount time. It cannot be in the absence of truth or the fab five “who, what, where, when, & why”.
    Thank you for stimulating our conscious with this question as well as our behaviors in profession.

  • I have lived through this debate for over 50 years. Nothing has changed. Everyone (leaders, whoever they may be) talks about the need to have a frank discussion about race. Yet it hasn’t taken place. If there is a desire to have dialogue then it has to be frank and those listening must condition themselves to accept hearing statements and conversations they might find offensive but discipline themselves to not take it personally regardless of who utters the comment. If this were to happen maybe, just maybe, persons who are engaged may be able to objectively understand the other person’s or group’s point of view. It seems that only one group or race is always at fault for the social problems in this country.The environment has to be created where at the end of the day participants will have a greater understanding of differences, genuinely accept criticisms, recognize their shortcomings, and deal with those weaknesses constructively.
    When that happens your leadership (and leaders) will be established to move our hostile climate on this topic forward.

    • Well put, as always, James.
      Your powerful last sentence in paragraph one begins with “the environment has to be created.”
      I would suggest that is an environment of love!

  • “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals;
    separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

    The “Observer Effect” is important and it is also irrelevant when it comes to behavior. Behavior is governed by laws. If we begin to justify unlawful actions based on how someone feels (right or wrong) we become lawless. Finding solutions to problems caused by the observer effect require finding ways to reduce that effect on feelings and emotions… without condoning any illegal acts.

    • Will,
      I also think that we when appreciate the observer effect — e.g., how someone who has been abused vs someone who has been consistently nurtured – then we don’t just look at the behaviors. We observe with empathy, and we act to create contexts that support people. Yes. Yes. Yes. Each of us is responsible for our behaviors – Michael Brown (who paid the steepest price), the police officer, the grand jurors, the peaceful demonstrator, the looter. And as I or you meet any of these people we deal with their actions in the context of LAW and justice, yet we also have the opportunity to see them in the context of mercy and love. I suspect BOTH sides of this yang/yin approach have power to heal. But where does the greater power lie?
      I always enjoy your contributions to RFL!

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