[July 19, 2016] On this date, June 19th in 1865, Union soldiers enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed all remaining slaves in the state of Texas; six weeks after the U.S. Civil War officially ended. Slavery in the U.S. was a contentious issue at the time and its legacy remains in race relations to this day. Like President Abraham Lincoln, leaders must deal with difficult issues; otherwise they have failed their moral responsibilities.
Slavery had been made a strategic issue by President Abraham Lincoln and he, as well as other political, business, and military leaders had to deal with those difficult issues. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, slavery had been enthusiastically supported many places, especially in the Southern states. Although slavery in the U.S. had been significant in America’s past, including during the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, it was finally up to Lincoln to use the Civil War as a justification to finally end slavery.
Difficult issues and their related problems don’t simply go away because a law is passed or someone says it must be so. The repercussions of slavery continue to echo through time and affects how people treat each other even to this day. Take a recent example of the currently in vogue Black Lives Matter movement that is anti-cop because they believe police forces are intrinsically racists and as a result target people of color for unreasonable treatment; to include killing them.
U.S. President Barak Obama has not dealt with the issue as well as we would expect a senior leader to do. The measurement of effectiveness in leaders is their ability to bring people together for a good cause. In that he has failed, as we witness increased targeting of police by blacks in America, a jump in violent crime mostly in cities where blacks reside, and greater racial divisions.
In the study of leadership, if we are to look at Obama’s words, they appear to be well crafted and say the right things. But he also sends the message that he supports the Black Lives Matter movement while he lectures the police and whites to understand that they themselves are really the problem (in other words, they are racists). This form of mixed messaging means that it will be interpreted in any number of ways and why this is a problem.
Race relations are, of course, only one difficult issue senior leaders must deal with. Their goal should be to make things better even when they cannot solve the problem. This is the essence of great leadership; improving the lives of those that depend upon that leader. Nowhere is there perfection but as long as improvements are being made; ideally equally affecting people.
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