Receive a Free Gift: 25 Extravagant Listening Tips for Leaders

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Lead Us Not Into Fear - Leadership Thoughts on Tulsa Shooting

Todd Kemp - Friday, September 23, 2016

Another brutal blow of unwanted reality smashed us in the mouth again this week when video flashed across our screens replaying the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed African-American man, by a white police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Yet again.

Leaders: we need you to help us be better! Way better!

Your Leadership Issue

What makes this a leadership issue, you might ask? What makes it your leadership issue?

Transformational leaders trade on the currency of trust.

These leaders affect positive change, mobilize people, and produce unprecedented results because they inspire and instill trust throughout their teams.

Fear is the enemy of trust.

However, it seems that many people live in fear in the U.S. And fear is the enemy of trust, the crucial element of healthy organizational cultures. Yes, your people on your team live in fear.

A January 6, 2016 article in Time, “Why Americans Are More Afraid Than They Used to Be,” cites a December 2015 study that concludes Americans are more fearful of terrorism than at any point since September 11, 2001.[1]

Far too often, leaders in our North American culture lead from a place of fear, pride, and/or unbridled ego. Witness the unprecedented rancor with which the current U.S. presidential campaign is being carried out. These candidates are not the first to stoke fear among voters. President Lyndon Johnson ran the first fear-based political advertisement (the “Daisy” ad) 52 years ago this month, using video of an atomic explosion and his own somber voiceover to suggest that his opponent would lead Americans to certain death by atomic war.[2] He won his reelection campaign over Barry Goldwater in a landslide victory.

One Family’s Story

More personally, I talked recently with a good friend, a true friend, who lives in the reality of this issue as an African-American male in the U.S. Brian is intelligent, articulate, good-looking, well-groomed, trustworthy, honorable, college-educated, married to a lovely woman and raising four great kids in their upper-middle class Dallas suburb. Brian has worked as a high tech leader in Silicon Valley for a Global 1000 company and is now a successful entrepreneur.

Here’s what it’s like to parent in this family.

Brian’s wife asks him to show their 3 teen boys the latest video of the shooting and talk to them. Brian reinforces his previous instruction to the boys on how to behave if they ever get pulled over by law enforcement while driving: keep your hands on the steering wheel, move slow, talk slow, do not roll down your window until the officer taps on the window, be polite, address them as “officer,” “sir,” or “ma’am.” Brian tells me he speaks even more articulately than usual in situations with police, choosing bigger words than normal, even using a touch of humor if he senses it will be received well. Heaven forbid he should be pulled over wearing sweats and a ball cap, and, he notes, being tall and physically fit does not help his cause either.

My son recently turned 16 and got his driver’s license. As a majority person living in majority suburbia, I hadn’t considered giving my son instructions in the event he’s pulled over in fear of it being a potentially life-threatening event!

We’ve seen it happen before – a black male with hands up, no weapon, lying on the ground, telling police officers he has no weapon. And yet none of it mattered. They shot him and took his life anyway.

And that is what scares Brian.

He’s never done drugs. His friends don’t do drugs. He dresses well. He’s a taxpaying, productive citizen living and working in a good part of town. His game plan, he says, if he’s ever confronted with a similar situation, is that he would talk intelligently, act prudently (slowly, with hands raised), and reason with the officers. Now, he says, his game plan has been blown up. It doesn’t work. And he’s afraid for his sons’ lives and his own.

Wow! How sad is that? Brian is my brother, you see. Not biological. But we’ve been through some life together. So I said, “Brian, I am so sorry. What can a suburban white guy like me do to help?”

“Share this conversation, Todd,” he said.

If more people understood and empathized, if more people knew each other and trusted each other, if we were less suspicious of one another, well…then we might begin to drive out fear.

A Better Way to Live and Lead

More than 75 years ago, in his State of the Union speech, President Franklin Roosevelt shared his hope for a future that would encompass “four essential freedoms” – including freedom from fear.[3]

The problem is, fear motivates, and its purveyors and buyers are plentiful. But there is a better way.

In the first two centuries C.E., a philosophy circulated that held that the spiritual realm was entirely good, and the physical realm was entirely evil. Believing this to be patently untrue, one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers, the Apostle John, wrote this in response:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”[4]

Our physical bodies and actions, our relationships, families, and the culture we participate in creating can be reclaimed for good by loving well and receiving love.

You might suggest that Brian needs to get himself some Jesus in his life. Then he can live in love without fear. Great idea. Brian was a teaching pastor at two churches and later started a home church with families in his community. He loves Jesus! He gets it!

Brian and others need the rest of us to get it, too – and to show it!

Getting Practical

Here’s one practical way Brian shows love. When he’s out for lunch and sees police officers, he buys them lunch, shakes their hands and thanks them for their service – even when he doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s awkward, as it was the day after the sniper shootings in Dallas by an African-American male. He does it anyway.

That’s great leadership!

Please don’t misunderstand. Brian isn’t soft on crime. He’s been involved in prison ministry, and as a result of getting to know some inmates, Brian fully supports a justice system that puts criminals behind bars.

Gerry Czarnecki is co-founder of the National Leadership Institute and CEO of a leadership consulting firm. In his book Lead With Love, he writes:

“Everything a leader does begins with the capacity and commitment to love.”[5]

Seeking and Doing the Best for Another

Psychologist, author, and leadership consultant John Townsend points out enhanced leadership abilities are a few of the many benefits of becoming a loving person, which he defines simply as, “seeking and doing the best for another.”[6]

Your leadership serves a greater purpose than simply hitting your earnings targets or growth goals. You have been entrusted with a position of influence on people and that impacts the greater culture, whether you asked for that responsibility or not. How you lead affects people’s lives – at work, at home, and in the community.

What will you do to lead and serve with a love that drives out fear?

I invite you to do 3 or 4 things:

  1. Invite someone out to coffee or lunch who does not look or think like you and whom you wish to know better. Share your story and listen attentively to theirs.
  2. Consider sharing this article with a couple friends and talk about it with them.
  3. Share your thoughts below. I’d love to hear them and I truly hope this starts a conversation.
  4. If you’re someone who prays, pray for the peace of your city.

[1] Lily Rothman, “Why Americans Are More Afraid Than They Used to Be,” Time, January 6, 2016.

[2] Lily Rothman, “Watch History’s Most Famous Political Ads,” September 7, 2014.

[3] Rothman, 2016.

[4] 1 John 4:18 NIV

[5] Gerry Czarnecki, Lead With Love, p. 17.

[6] Dr. John Townsend, Loving People, pp. 7, 19.

Comments (3) | Permalink

Christine Shenk commented on 24-Sep-2016 04:31 AM
Thank you Todd for writing this! Thank you for not sidelining your feelings of 'what can I do?' Thanks Brian for your leadership and care and showing love not only to humanity but to police officers...may peace be spread as one by one we share stories/ideas and stay vulnerable, and pray. I send love and greetings to you two very great men, and to your wives and families. My life is enhanced just knowing you both. And so go the ripples, outward and onward. Sending love from the East coast.
Sue Kortz commented on 24-Sep-2016 06:33 AM
Thanks for following through and drawing attention to this from your friend's perspective. This is a scenario white folks don't have to role play and that makes me very sad. Loving well through intentional relationship is the solution across race and is the only way barriers of fear are broken. 'Lord, we ask you to give us bold courage to face and defeat the fear of each other's skin and culture that the enemy is stoking across our beloved nation. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and we want to love each other well and know each other. We love you, amen.'
Carol Davis commented on 29-Sep-2016 03:40 PM
Todd, thanks for your well thought out, rational piece on a very real problem in the U.S. I challenge everyone who reads this to share it and use your leadership skills to help tackle this very big issue in some positive way.

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Todd Kemp

Todd Kemp


Todd believes that great leaders ignite flourishing and propel noble missions. He loves engaging leaders who value their own growth, are passionate about their people and earn profit for a greater purpose.

Since 2004, Todd has worked with CEOs and Business Owners, helping them build value in their organizations and multiply their capacity for being trusted leaders. As President of Sunbelt Business Advisors, a business brokerage, Todd worked with over 100 companies helping them buy, sell or reposition their firms. In addition to leading a $350M tech sales region at a Fortune 150, he earned entrepreneurial scar tissue by co-founding a software venture and acquiring a retail business.”

A graduate of Stanford University, Todd played on two NCAA Championship water polo teams. He lives with his bride and two teenage children at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Todd enjoys mountain biking, hiking, investing time with family and making mango salsa.