[December 23, 2014] When leaders speak and take action, it is imperative that it is done so in a clear, concise, and vigorous manner. On important issues, where there is room to be misunderstood or for distorting what is said, this is even more vital. Leaders must have unequivocal clarity in communication. Failure to do so will produce unwanted results that could take great resources to overcome.
A good example can be shown by recent statements and actions of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Leaders can learn some important lessons from this experienced politician. He quickly got himself into an unwanted position by just a few words and actions that were, unfortunately, ambiguous. For example, he supported and encouraged protests in the city, some of which resulted in assault on police officers. Some have even called the mayor’s comments “cop-bashing” and that he supported “anti-police rhetoric” within his administration and among protestors.1,2
This is not to imply that the mayor is anti-police at all. In fact, he has publically stated his support and praise of the police and his stance against violence. This has not been successful because of his other statements and acts are sending mixed signals to the community; comments that can be read just about any way. For example he said, “Our police are here to protect us, and we honor that,” the mayor said then, invoking his biracial son, Dante. “And at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear.”
The mayor of New York City is not the only one who is being accused of poor communications. The U.S. President and U.S. Attorney General have also had accusations leveled at their “racial propaganda.” The results are not pretty. Making things worse, activist and reverend Al Sharpton has been stirring up racial hatred in Ferguson and New York. Interestingly, Al Sharpton is also an advisor to the President, Attorney General, and the mayor of New York. People see this and draw conclusions that run counter to what is being said by the mayor. That is expected when emotions run high.
While leader lessons from this may be obvious, being unequivocally clear can be difficult. In our example here, how does the mayor support freedom to have the concerns of some voices heard, through means that have sometimes turned violent … and still support the law abiding community? The solution is to be unequivocal in your message from the beginning. This means one needs to be focused, ethically grounded, and posses a good understanding of human psychology.
There is a vigorous debate about police tactics and the black community. This is a national issue that should be handled more professionally and more responsibly among our leaders. Furthermore, the issues are complex and not easily solved – that’s why senior leaders must be prepared. I don’t believe the mayor of New York City put much thought into his initial reaction to it and then he failed to quickly come to grips with the problem. The fallout continues across the country and in the Big Apple.
[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker at our Facebook Page.]