(This article is modified from an article originally authored and posted on LinkedIn in July 2014) I. Shoddy workmanship is a sign of our times We live in a world...
Both mother AND son — whose filmed confrontation on the edge of the Baltimore riots went viral — are speaking out about what happened and why the teenager, wearing a mask and carrying a brick, was there in the first place. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
The pictures of the mom in Baltimore are riveting. A mother storms across a street full of protesters and picks out one person, a young man in a hoodie and a mask. She begins to confront him, then berate him and finally hit him until he follows her away from the crowd.
This mom, in a time of high risk, observes her son dressed and acting in a way that indicates he is about to engage in behaviors that will place him and his future at high risk. Reacting immediately, she confronts her son and when she does not receive the response she expects, she takes matters into her own hands .
Not unexpectedly, one reads comments critical of this mom’s actions. Too violent, should have been more understanding, use a more collaborative approach, too emotional. Others even allege child abuse.
So what, if anything, can be learned from a mom who responded quickly in a time of high risk with one concern: protecting her son from harm?
Lesson 1: Leaders are guided by values and principles where others are not.
“You know, once he threw that rock down I said, ‘You weren’t brought up like this,’ ” she said. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
“Others may, you may not.” It’s a quote I heard many times from my mother. There are certain actions that cannot and should not be determined by what others are doing. Going along with the crowd is not always a wise action. History is replete with situations where the crowd was wrong. Only a person’s values and beliefs can properly guide them in what is right and wrong. Others who allow political correctness and consensus to guide them in times of high risk and danger will often pay the consequences for allowing consensus to take the place of principle.
There are two types of values: corporate and personal. The Baltimore mom was moved by her belief that rioting (not protesting) was wrong and her son was placing himself in a situation of high risk. (The rock in his hand was a tip-off of his planned actions). There comes a time in a leader’s life when he or she has to be guided by personal values and not simply corporate rule and guidelines or even group consensus.
Lesson 2: Leaders look to the future and anticipate consequences and risks where others do not.
“That’s my only son and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Toya Graham told CBS News. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/04/28/baltimore-mom-slaps-son-riot-freddie-gray/26505237/)
Leaders by definition look forward. They look to and anticipate the future. Part of looking forward is to foresee consequences of actions and to guide actions that produce positive results and avoid actions that produce detrimental results. Reading a situation and assessing risk or potential problems are key skills of leaders. This is also an area where leaders are criticized. But understand: a leader LEADS both by creating positive situations and by avoiding negative actions and situations.
Lesson 3: There are times when autocratic, quick and decisive action is required.
“I did (get emotional)”, she said. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
There are situations that call for immediate leadership action. No time for committees. No time for votes or to arrive at consensus. There are times that call for a leader to act. This mom had to get out of her chair, get out of her house and go into the streets to find her son and to make a decision. Action was required; waiting to deal with the situation would not mitigate the clear and present danger.
Again, this places leaders in a situation where they will be misunderstood or criticized but, frankly, if the leaders feels their values are being compromised or danger is imminent, they cannot be moved by what others who are standing on the sideline will say.
Sometimes the danger is so great that drastic action is required. Leaders may be criticized for their style but in a high-risk situation, results are more important than style. The leader must know what to do to get people’s attention so that a situation is not allowed to continue. This means there are times when a leader may have to act autocratically. They may have to stand alone. But if they choose not to act, the window of opportunity to address the issue may have passed.
Lesson 4: Leaders do not expect or care if everyone understands their actions that protect others. They do what they think is right.
For her part, Graham told CNN she noticed that a TV crew was filming the scene, but didn’t think anything of it at the time — and didn’t care.
“I wasn’t there to be recorded. I was there to get my child,” she said. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
In high-risk situations leaders do not act to gain public approval. That may or may not come later. In any case the leader does not act to gain applause. This mom loved her son; that cannot be in doubt. Yet she is fiercely criticized. People say, “She never should have slapped him; she should have reasoned with him; she should have behaved differently.”
“I think it sends a terrible message. The ‘Mom of the Year’ beats her child? I don’t think so,” said Kathleen Harter, executive director of the Consortium for Children’s Services in Syracuse. “Had she thrown herself into a burning building or thrown herself in front of police bullets and saved her son’s life — maybe,” Harter added. “But she’s not ‘Mom of the Year’ because she kicked his a–.
In high-risk areas, leaders cannot allow fear of criticism to keep them from doing what they believe is right.
Lesson 5: Protecting followers from risk or wrong doing often must come before understanding.
“When the cameras are not there and it’s just me and my son and I’m trying to show him right from wrong, and then you get to a situation like that and you see him doing wrong you just react, because you teach him better than that,” she said. (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
One thing we note from watching the confrontation video is that there does not seem to be a lot of discussion. An order or directive seems to be given and to be ignored. This mom’s first order of business was to protect her son; potential adverse action had to be stopped before instruction could begin. Understanding could come later, probably in the quiet of her home. Hopefully that instruction will be a lesson that makes an impact for the rest of this young man’s life. And that lesson is the message of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Protest; air your grievances against wrong; take non-violent actions that are within the scope of the law. In other words, two wrongs do not make a right.
Lesson 6: Followers may not agree, but they will know the leader cares.
Singleton told CNN that he understands that his mother was there looking out for him. “She didn’t want me to get in trouble (with the) law.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/30/mother-son-baltimore-protests-confrontation-tv-viral/26628207/)
In the Baltimore situation, the son was interviewed and admitted he knew his mother loved him. Followers may disagree with a specific action or even the way in which that action was carried out but when they believe the leader cares about them and acts in their best interests, they will give the benefit of the doubt.
Morale of the story
A single mother in Baltimore acted to save her son and his future from actions that could have scarred his future forever. She is a picture of one person willing to act in order to protect someone she cared about. But she also serves as a picture of what leaders face in the politically correct world in which we live.
• The standard for leadership is no longer right or wrong; it has become do what the group thinks you should do.
• You are a good leader if you do what the group thinks you should do; you are a bad leader if you act otherwise.
• Standing for your values is applauded if they are identical to the group’s values but criticized if they are not.
• Leaders can expect to be criticized by those standing on the sidelines.
• If you are willing to stand alone, you will be criticized.
It is easier for people to criticize the actions of a mom rather than appreciate the fact her actions kept her son from breaking the law. Give me a person who has a strong sense of right and wrong and who truly cares about the welfare of those under his or her leadership. I can forgive a lot of mistakes and errors under those circumstances.
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