I had heard reports about the protest on the campus of the University of Missouri during the annual Homecoming Parade when black (and then supportive whites) blocked the path of the university president and his vehicle.
One of the protesters said that what convinced them that the university president had to go was the fact that the president did not engage with them. In fact, they thought he did not make eye contact with them.
As a leader, you cannot always have the safety of an indoors meeting, a city council room, or other place of your control. Sometimes the challenge to your leadership happens on the street.
Take a good look at this 10 minute video. What is the role of a leader here; a leader who, like a chief of police, may be the target of the protest? What do you think that leader should do?
This video is a strong example of what not to do. My sense is that a university president is ill-prepared for these kind of encounters. Police chiefs should be. They should be prepared for these challenges, able to overcome the fear and challenge of these incidents, and successfully work through them.
Having been in a number of these kind street encounters during my 20+ years as a chief of police in a protesting city, this is what I learned along the way:
HERE’S WHAT A LEADER SHOULD DO IN A PROTEST SITUATION
- Get out of the car (or up out of your chair).
- Actively listen to the protesters and what they have to say.
- Keep your emotions under control. Continue to respectfully listen.
- Try to determine what the protesters want. Can you meet some of their “demands?”
- Work to de-escalate, be calm, maintain eye contact. Be respectful. Can we meet later?
- Radiate calmness in the face of conflict. Be peaceful.
- Continue to listen. Respectfully answer questions. Don’t be “baited.”
- What do you think? How would you respond?