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Monday, January 26, 2015

Sometimes You Have to Dance Alone

One of my favorite videos on leadership is entitled, “How to Start a Movement”.  It’s a TED talk and it features Derek Sivers narrating a clip where a lone “nut” is captured on amateur video dancing by himself.

I call him a nut because he dances with such vigor and doesn’t seem to care how ridiculous he looks or that everyone is staring and laughing at him.  He simply dances alone in the crowded park.

What happens next changes everything.  Another person joins him and starts dancing with him and you can still make the argument that they both look ridiculous but that doesn’t seem to deter them.  They continue to dance unapologetically.  Soon, several people get up and start dancing with them, and so on, until it’s no longer cool to be the ones who are sitting on the sidelines watching.

When narrating the video, Sivers places the emphasis on the first follower.  He suggests that it is the person who joins the dancer that is the most important because he turns “a lone nut into a leader” by the sheer act of following.

As it pertains to starting a movement, followers are a necessary ingredient because they create the tipping point - the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.

But before there can be followers, there has to be that one person who is courageous enough to not care about the people on the sidelines ridiculing them.

This sounds pretty simple.  It’s the same as saying, “Don’t worry about what anyone thinks about you.”  And yet, the more I watch people, the more I have come to understand that fear is the single most thing that holds people back from nearly every aspect of their lives - the fear of being judged by others.

I’m not fond of aging.  I loathe everything that comes along with becoming more and more distanced from youth.  That is, except for the fact that with age and maturity, there comes a better understanding that so much of our lives is wasted on worrying what other people think.  We may not all get there at the same time, but there comes a moment where the outside noise becomes irrelevant.

I have such clarity now as I watch those who spend most of their time criticizing others.  The people we fear the most are those who are the outspoken judgers.  They are often loud and believable and they don’t miss an opportunity to point out the fallibility in others.  They ridicule with contrived intellectual superiority and they hold dominion over the weak minds who follow them.

Leaders who don’t use their power for good also have followers.  People who are clever and charismatic enough are capable of getting people to stand with them.

These people are powerful because they shatter the confidence of those of you who are trying to do good and if you aren’t careful they will break your spirit.

Who you choose to follow and why you choose to follow them reveals everything about who you are.  Do you simply follow those who can benefit you the most? Or do you follow those who genuinely care about other people more than they care about themselves and put the organization before their individual needs?

We need more people to rise to leadership who have their values in alignment with solid principles.  That’s a scary thing to ask of someone because for every principle-centered leader, there will be another who rises to ridicule and judge.  There is strength in numbers and so we must be the ones who stand with those who use their power for good.

If no one is leading, don’t wait for someone to rise up and take charge of the things you care about.  Stand up and dance.

Even if you have to dance alone for a little while.

Friday, January 9, 2015

In Darkness We Must Glow

The concept of “de-policing” has been used in the media to describe a de facto police strike, where the police withdraw an aspect of their crime prevention services.  It has been suggested that NYPD is engaging in this practice as a result of the officers who were assassinated following the public outrage of the deaths of unarmed, black offenders.

De-policing is a product of morale and morale is a living and breathing animal that is always influx.

For each one of us, there have been times in our careers where we have felt disengaged and disenfranchised because of something that has happened to us personally.  My morale has suffered over the years as a result of bad leadership, inequity, and the pressures of the job.  When it happens individually, it’s hardly recognizable.  If we are resilient, we pick ourselves up, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and move on.

However, when morale affects the collective whole, it is difficult to ignore.  In this moment in time, police officers are struggling with the notion that public trust has been eroded. This, along with the very real threat to their lives (even greater than on a typical day) means that officers are suffering an internal struggle that begins with the question, “Why should I even bother?”

Let’s face it, police officers are acutely aware of their image problem.  They are responsible for enforcing laws and if you happen to be on the offending end of that scenario, you probably aren’t adding cops to your Christmas card list.  The police typically show up when things aren’t going particularly well so they aren’t associated with rainbows and butterflies.

Police don’t enter this profession for recognition and I can promise you that responding to a domestic violence call and thwarting a violent offender rarely results in a thank-you card.

This is why it’s so important that officers find ways to show the community their softer side.  By engaging with all members of the community in times of peace, citizens will understand that we have a job to do in times of crisis.  When we educate our community by engaging in dialogue with them about our mission and our methods, they better understand why we do what we do.  When they understand the “why”, they can accept the “how” while still holding us accountable.

It has always been my philosophy that those with negative views of the police are usually those who are breaking the law.  In the aftermath of Ferguson and New York, it suddenly seemed as though the entire world turned their back on us and painted every law enforcement officer with the broad brush as a murderer.

And now, officers are being targeted and killed for no other reason than the uniform they wear.

Why should the police risk their lives for people they don’t even know when even the good citizens question their intentions?  The easy answer is that police officers may disengage in some areas but ultimately they will go back to their default.  They will get back to work because they understand that the work they do is not for their bosses, but for the citizens of the community that they swore to protect. They will get back to work because they are guardians of the community.

I will speak on behalf of every police officer and say that even though pro-active production is down at NYPD, there is not one cop who won’t rise to action when it’s necessary.  Law enforcement officers are people of action and they will not sit idle when duty calls to protect life.

Officers in New York City and all over the United States must realize, however, that the little things will turn into big things if they are ignored for too long.  With that, officers have to get back in the game and re-engage.  It is in this darkness that we must glow.

The police must rebuild trust with the community one contact at a time and the community has to be reminded that the majority of police officers are selfless human beings committed to upholding laws and protecting the people they serve.

It is not an option to give up.  The safety of our respective communities depends upon finding our way through this together.