Leadership is defined by Merriam Webster as “the power or ability to lead other people”.  This basic definition has been expanded by many leaders of American industry and one definition from Mark Little resonates the fabric that built our country; “A leader is someone [who] leads by example and has the integrity to do the right thing even when it is not popular”.

Leaders have bubbled to the top when faced with dire situations.  Winston Churchill, a great orator, politician and Prime Minister of England during World War II gave England and the free world the belief that they would not only survive but triumph against great odds.  While England was getting its’ brains kicked in from continual bombing from Germany that targeted both military and industrial targets, the world watched as tiny Britain held out.  In 1940 Churchill made his famous speech to Parliament where he stated, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  It was impassioned speeches such as this that united his country to hold on to hope and eventually the world rallied to the cause and the Axis countries were thwarted.

One thing about dire situations is that there is usually no quick fix.  It would be five years from Churchill’s speech before his country was free of war.  Mary Gibbons stated that   “Leadership is having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own.” When leading a group of people that could be as large as an entire nation, the expectations of a quick fix must be belayed and true expectations of a long solution to a complex problem must be communicated. In the darkest hours of the Battle of Britain, Churchill stated in 1942, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. Churchill continued to rally his nation and reinforced that victory is possible.

Leadership can also have negative consequences when verbiage is not clear or when the consequences are not realized until months or years. In Florida a tragic shooting led to the death of a your African American several years ago. Instead of trying to look at the problem in a manner to fix a root cause, the message from Washington was confusing and only polarized the situation. Then when the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri led to riots throughout the city and we watched as a major part of the community was looted and burned; our Washington leadership was quick to blame the police for the initial shooting and the way they used military equipment to try and control the situation. The Attorney General was present at the funeral of the man killed by the police and thus sent the message that the police was at fault and the federal government declared it may take back the surplus military equipment used by police for riot control since it could further infuriate the rioters. A grand jury later cleared the policeman involved in the shooting.

Last night I watched as part of Milwaukie, Wisconsin burned just as I woke to hear of police being murdered in Dallas and then in Baton Rouge and now in Georgia. Milwaukee firemen did not respond to the fires fearing being targets of snipers. I thought of the armorer vehicles in Ferguson and how the police could have used these to help with the riots in Milwaukee. The conciliatory message from Washington has turned America into a powder keg and it is going to take strong leadership to stop the belief that targeting police is justified and to take on the even harder issue of looking into the heart and soul of America and fixing what needs to be fixed. At this time I see the greatest leadership in our racial situation to be coming from the African American clergy. It is the religious leaders marching in peaceful protests that provide a calming force to the protesters. It is the religious leaders going into the rioters of Baltimore and offering prayer that led to the putting down of weapons.

Let’s build on these successes and let’s call it like it is. Let’s admit there are problems and let’s see what we can do to fix it. One thing is certain, destruction and stealing is not a way to fix this; strong leadership is.

I am so proud to work for a company that last week welcomed the law enforcement agencies from the surrounding area into our headquarters for an appreciation lunch. Over 370 members of our law enforcement agencies accepted the offer for a meal of appreciation.

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