Leading Change when Lives are on the Line: Lessons from Dallas Police Chief David Brown – June 2016

“In one of the toughest jobs imaginable – police chief of a major city – during one of that city’s greatest crises ever, David Brown has provided a textbook lesson in leadership.  Calm and cool, resolute and steely-eyed, candid and courageous and humble and compassionate, Dallas’ top cop has been pitch-perfect in handling an outrageously tragic and evil situation,” wrote Glenn Hunter in Frontburner of Dallas Police Chief David Brown’s handling of the recent tragedy that occurred under his command.  As reported by the New York Times, a black man, intent on killing white officers, fatally shot five police officers in downtown Dallas while the nation was reeling from the deaths of two black men at the hands of the police in Louisiana and Minnesota.”

Chief Brown is an amazing example of Change Intelligent leadership in action.  For years, indeed his entire career, he has been working within the system to change the system.  As an avid proponent and role model for the community policing concept, he has gained national recognition for improving relations between police and minorities.  Throughout his career, he has been described as “willing to challenge the status quo in a big way,” according to former chief David Kunkle.  He has vision, and sound strategy to back it up – the CQ approach of “inspiring the head” in action.

When tragedy struck, he was in the trenches, making tough, firm, tactical decisions in conjunction with his officers at the forefront of the crisis, while simultaneously acting as the face of the crisis to the press and the public in conjunction with Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.  He is an active, hands-on leader – the CQ approach of “helping the hands” in action.

Through it all, he’s been a staunch, high-touch advocate for his cops – and for all victims and their families.  In his words, “I’m trying to tell them that I care about them when I see them face to face….It’s a big department.  It’s hard to touch everybody at one time.  So you won’t see me walking past an officer without grabbing him and hugging him, and shaking their hand and telling how grateful I am for their commitment and sacrifice.”

Not only does he display gratitude for those who serve directly and personally, he is using his leadership position and public spotlight to help us all empathize with the plight of police officers and the daunting and perhaps unfair burden society has placed upon them.  In his words, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve.  Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it.  Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops.  Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem.  Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs.  Schools fail, give it to the cops.  Seventy percent of the African-American community is being raised by single women.  Let’s give it to the cops to solve that as well…..Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”  Demonstrating empathy, and elevating the dialogue – the CQ approach of engaging the heart in action.

And, Brown extends the dialogue to include protestors, those criticizing what they deem as excessive police force, commenting, “we’re sworn to protect you and your right to protest, and we’ll give our lives for it….And it’s sort of like being in a relationship where you love that person, but that person can’t express or show you love back…..that’s a tough relationship to be in, where we show our love – because there’s no greater love than to give your life for someone, and that’s what we’re continuing to be willing to do…..And we just need to hear from the protesters back to us, ‘We appreciate the work you do for us in our right to protest’…..That should be fairly easy.”

But he doesn’t stop there.  In what to me is the most compelling example of his leadership, he reached out to those who protest against police actions, offering them a vista into how they can each personally channel their frustration to make a positive difference. He offered, “We’re hiring.  Get off that protest line and put an application in.  And we’ll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you’re protesting about.”

Moreover, as Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post explains, when commenting on the Twitter campaign to encourage Chief Brown to run for the U.S. presidency, “Brown certainly has a compelling life story to tell from the stump.  His brother, son, and former partner have been killed.  He knows what victims go through.  And he knows how to lead.”  Chief Brown chooses to lead.  In the face of so much personal tragedy, and such daunting societal trauma, he chooses to take personal responsibility and be the change he wishes to see – to work within the system to change the system.  Courage in action.

And, CQ in action – bringing together the “head” (vision, goals, and strategy), “hands” (tactics, tools, and process), and “heart” (people, collaboration, and empathy), to partner together for positive change.

Clearly, law enforcement leaders today are grappling with significant and persuasive challenges in their efforts to meet their mandate to “protect and serve,” faced by threats ranging from racial strife to terrorism to slashed budgets.  That’s why I’m thrilled and honored to be co-presenting with Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald (a Police Officer for 15 years currently serving as a Patrol Supervisor, I/O Psychologist, and CQ Certified Change Leader) at the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) Midwest Chapter Conference on October 6 in Des Plaines, Illinois.  We’ll describe how he is bringing Change Intelligence to the world of law enforcement, to empower police forces to develop leadership capacity and foster collaborative community relations.  Join us to learn more, and become part of this vital conversation.