A lot of ink and bytes have been consumed writing about the arrest of Professor Gates as he returned home from Japan and forced his own stuck front door open, attracting attention and a call to the police from a passer-by. A lot of name calling has followed. A lot of pompousness too. The best idea I’ve heard so far in retrospect was President Obama’s invitation for all parties involved to have a beer with him. I’m guessing a European lager.
Professors and policemen have one thing in common — peer review. Professors who are published in distinguished journals have committees who referee their work and make sure all data and references are correct. Police departments have Internal Affairs divisions that review choices police persons make when carrying out their duties.
Rather than offer an opinion on who was in the right and who was wronged in this very public incident, I wonder what would happen if both professor and policeman were invited to a new type of peer review. If I were on such a panel, here are the questions I would ask:
1. Did you do everything you could have done to defuse the situation?
2. Is there any choice you would make differently? Why?
3. Are you proud of your actions?
4. Do you think you advanced your cause(s) through your responses?
5. Do you think your ego got in the way of your responses, at least a little bit?
6. Are you willing to apologize for being part of a misunderstanding, whether or not you feel you did anything wrong?
These are important review questions for any leader at any time. Careful review teaches us to lead better when the next opportunity arises.
Better still is to be ready and to avoid the mistake. This is difficult as we who lead are often called upon to lead in a moment, without time to reflect on all the implications going forward. This is where preparation, the careful nurture of values and ethical choices, and a cultivation of humility come in. They are the tools that guide the leader in the heat of the moment when the eyes of the world, and the eyes of our children, are watching.
-mark l vincent