If You Are a Leader, You Must Do Something


If you are a leader, you have to do something. Yes, you.

Only two days ago did I watch the video. Generally, I do not watch such videos as I feel they exploit and disrespect the dead. It sickened me. It sucked the life out of me. It has stayed with me, to the point of discouraging me from writing . . . from doing something. So I write with a pit still in my stomach. But I write because I must do something.

A coach’s job is to ask questions, not direct. To meet a leader where they are, not take them where you want them to go. I will continue to do that. But not on this topic.

The last minutes of George Floyd’s life . . . . If you haven’t yet, you need to watch the video. A white man, whose job is to protect, kills a black man. You need to take that in. Let it disturb you. Let it force you to figure out what you are going to do, as a leader.

But there’s more. That one death is only the latest. This has been going on a long, long time, with little or no change.

Saturday night, Marta and I watched Mississippi Burning. The movie was produced in 1988 (22 years ago) and based loosely on events that took place in 1964 (56 years ago). Yet the story is timeless. Three men – two Jewish, one Black – disappear mysteriously. Local law enforcement, instead of protecting the three, cover up their murders. And, not surprising, the movie itself was controversial when it debuted. Nothing has changed.

Leaders exist to change things, hopefully to make them better than what they were. So you cannot be a leader right now and do nothing.

What is holding you back? Me back? Our society back? One answer is . . . Autopilot. 

I have written about Autopilot extensively.

Autopilot makes me deaf and blind and numb to what is really happening. 

Autopilot enables me to stay comfortable and safe.

Autopilot is acting / reacting the same way I always have.

Autopilot prevents change.

It happens first in us individually. And then as an organization. And then as a society.

I must examine my automatic reactions – in how I think, how I feel, my sense of identity, what I say or don’t say, do or don’t do – and see how each of those have a ripple effect with those around me and then society at large. This awareness then prompts me to see new opportunities for changing how I respond, and thus changing the world around me.

Leaders, to do your job, you must notice your autopilot responses, and then do something different to intentionally be a change agent. Here’s a poignant video of one (law enforcement!) leader who did. He changed the conversation.

Let’s review . . . 

A society is a reflection of its members.

Autopilot keeps individuals and society the same.

Leaders exist to help change for the better.

So what can you do? The variety of answers here is as diverse as there are leaders. You must examine what you can do in your particular sphere of influence. But one common thing every leader can do right now, after turning off Autopilot, is to turn on Curiosity.

Turn on curiosity with yourself first. What is it with my autopilot responses? What needs to change inside me?

Next, turn with curiosity to someone who is different from you. Seek them out. With humility and vulnerability, tell them you want to better understand things from their perspective.

Then be curious about how your team or organization needs to behave differently so that you can contribute to a better society where horrors like the killing of George Floyd don’t continue, and we change for the better.

In my Christian faith tradition, I am to follow two grand imperatives: first to love my Creator, and secondly to love all whom he created. All is everyone. And my love has to manifest through action. I must do something. I believe we all must do something.

Still need help with next steps? See this excellent article by Laura Roberts and Ella Washington in Harvard Business Review.

Lead well.