5 Leadership Priorities During Times of Crises #BaltimoreRiots

“It was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded,” Michael Fletcher explains in his excellent Washington Post article digging a level deeper into the rioting and destruction in Baltimore this week.

He stated,  “Baltimore is not Ferguson and its primary problems are not racial.”

There’s a huge economic divide that has been eating away the infrastructure of our city for years.

The city has changed dramatically in my lifetime. The once safe-feeling row house neighborhood where my father grew up now faces many of the economic issues underlying the protests.

What Baltimore needs next is strong leadership.

In yesterday’s post, I asked the LGL community to offer their insights on what must happen next in Baltimore. The response was tremendous. I look forward to continue to collect your comments to take forward to Baltimore leadership to instigate change.

5 Leadership Priorities Baltimore Must Address

The main idea was that the problem is aggravated by a lack of shared vision of what must happen next, and an unwillingness of leaders on both sides of the issues to take a united stand, roll-up their sleeves and send a clear message on a path forward.

1. A Unified Leadership Front

We’ve got glimpses–gang members from rival gangs working together, 100 church leaders marching arm in arm through the burning rubble asking protesters to stop the violence, and Orioles COO, John Angelos tweeting about decades of inequities underlying the eruption of violence.  But it’s not enough.

We need elected officials, fire chiefs, gang leaders, church leaders, student leaders, COOs, and celebrated athletes coming together to say “STOP: THIS IS OUR CITY AND WE CAN’T DESTROY IT!” along with a clear commitment to get in a room and work it through in a collaborative way.

2. A Deep and Candid Conversation on the Issues

Violent demonstrations such as this happen when people feel their voice isn’t being heard.

We need to follow the lead of other cities like Chicago who have engaged collaborative conversation through appreciative inquiry and structured conversations.

I’ve been disappointed at how many key leaders have been told “not to comment.”

I was even asked, “Are you sure you want to get involved in this? Is it good for your brand?”

My brand is authenticity, and leading with confident humility. If not on important issues like this, when?

Leadership that matters will always annoy someone.

Honestly, what has surprised me most is all the emails coming in in lieu of comments. Folks who have something important to say, but somehow only want to say it to me.

3. Swift Action

Leaders need to take swift and bold action to make some crucial decisions.

I don’t pretend to understand why the mayor vetoed the body camera bill last year, and what was different about her proposal this February that is still swirling. I do know that quick action in this arena would be a sincere step toward additional transparency.

4. A Clear Path Forward

Citizens are looking for guidance on what to do. Thousands came to Baltimore to support the clean up efforts, because someone organized it. Many churches in our area (including my own) are holding special services and prayer vigils. We could get these concerned citizens to “pray with their feet” if we just told them how, and offered scaffolding that made it feel safe.positive baltimore

What we need is a place where the anger, heartache, love, and hope can be put to good use. Outside of the broken souls who ransacked stores and scrambled through the streets last night with as much booze and stolen goods as they could carry, I don’t imagine anyone turned on the news last night and said. “Good. Let it burn!” I even saw a young man, who claimed to be Crips leader quoted as saying, “This is our neighborhood, but we can’t control it now…”

But where do you start? How can you help? I’m a middle class white-guy, born in Baltimore, but raised in the suburbs. I love the city and like to consider myself from there, but I can’t claimed to have lived it. I’ve been a spectator at best. What should I be doing? Should I grab a shovel and start scooping out the ashes of CVS and the dozens of mom and pop shops that may never recover? Maybe. Should I stand with the non-violent protesters on Eutaw Street? I probably should have done that two days ago, but I don’t know that that would have helped and the truth is we don’t know exactly what happened to Freddie Gray. It’s an injustice to be sure, but a vague one that presents little course of action other than outrage. So, most of us do nothing. We shake our head at the news and then move on with our day.

I suppose what I would say to our leaders is that the outrage, the sadness, and the concern are wasted resources. There are many who will help if given clear direction. Tell us what to do and where we’re needed. Clear a path to the greater good and build a better city than the one we had. It’s not about one night or one issue. It’s about creating an environment where last night is impossible.

5. Admitting Mistakes for Proactive Action in Other Cities

It’s hard to know what to say and do in such scenes.  God only knows I’ve said some stupid things under fire. The mayor’s “room to destroy” comment is distracting the media from the real issue. She can make this go away by saying, “Yup, poor word choice. I am sorry. What I really meant was_____.”

Here’s what one concerned LGL tribe member shared:

From an outsider’s perspective (though, an outsider that experienced something similar during Hurricane Katrina) it seems that a simple conversation between community leaders could not only resolve this, but also serve as a model for communities dealing with similar issues across the US and even the world. I think Baltimore would be smart to capitalize on the opportunity to help the world take a big step forward.

Our worst times in history are aggravated or improved by the leadership response. My hope for Baltimore is that we will have more leaders leading with confident humility, setting egos and agendas aside and rebuilding our city to be so much better than before that no lives, property or effort was wasted.

*Pics shared with me by Civic Works Baltimore a non-profit strengthening Baltimore’s communities through education, skills development, and community service.

I was delighted to share a bit of discussion on Canada Talks Radio last night. You can hear the audio here., as well as an interview with Matt Tenney in the Huffington Post.