Learning Leadership from a Good Week in the Washingtons

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In Washington DC and the State of Washington, we saw some crazy border crossings last week. Some people led, literally, got out in front, and flouted rules, laws and conventional wisdom. Risky stuff. Maybe stupid. Maybe wrong. Have your views, but stay with me for a minute and try to forget the political issues to see the leadership and people issues. 

There are issues for three groups:  the rebels, the populace, and the powerful.

In D.C. over 200 people were arrested for making a ton of noise during the Kavanaugh hearings.

In Seattle, Nike “just did it,” launching an ad campaign that featured Colin Kaepernick, narrating a message that included the line, “Believe in something, even if means sacrificing everything.”

I know it’s hard not to get pulled into our political views about what the DC protesters were saying, or whether Kaepernick is a hero or an American villain.  But please do look with me at a different picture.

First, look at those from below or outside who are crossing boundaries.  The supreme court protesters crossed a boundary with their intentional disrespect of the rules around free speech and crossed cultural value-lines that separate the civil from uncivil.  One could rightly say: if someone feels so strongly about women’s or other issues, the line starts at the local clerk’s office where you register to vote or to run.  Those are the rules.  I found it annoying that senators were questioning a person who in some respects will have more power – and certainly more staying power – than even a President, and it was hard for them and for little old me to focus. Grrr.

Similarly, many people say Kaepernick should stay inside the lines of the football field, and Nike is very foolishly crossing a line into political values when they should stay in their line of footwear, apparel and great marketing campaigns (until now).

Two things are true about these boundary-crossers: the women, Kaekpernick and Nike. (1) They are thumbing their noses at authority, conventional wisdom, social mores, rules and guidelines.  And (2) like all such courageous leaders, they are paying a price for it. Freedom, as they say, is not free. In this sense, some part of us should stand in admiration of them all and take inspiration from them!

There’s the boundary breakers, then there’s the great mass of usThese protesters’ expressions of civil disobedience (and Nike’s thumbing its nose at the conventional line between politics and business) put stress on us:  those of us who disagree with their views, or who appreciate the importance of order, or who just want a beer and a break.  Let me hasten to add that some liberals at some universities (including mine) really dislike when the right is on campus. Why should we have to listen to them?

As Jefferson said and we can never forget:  “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”

One more audience deserves to be addressed:  Those of us with power and authority:  I can only believe that if we listened better, empathized better, counter-attacked less, things would progress.  After all, it is:

  • Stressed parents and teachers who yell at kids and think the kid-protesters are the problem.
  • Politicians on left and right who righteously protest rules when they’re out of power, then turn around and do the same thing when they are in power.
  • Managers who ignore genuine issues, because they are too busy, too tired, or too fixed on their rules to really listen.

I always loved the line from Tom Peters that great leaders “honor the assassins in their midst.”  It takes courage to step out, faith to support the right of those who do, and wisdom to listen to those who challenge us the most.

Pick your challenge to

Lead with your best self!