I feel confident that just by mentioning the name “Colin Kaepernick” I’m stirring up a wide range of emotions across the reading public right now. Kaepernick, a 49er quarterback, recently made a decision to use his very public football presence as a platform a few weeks ago. He decided to sit during the national anthem as a way to draw attention to what he feels are racial injustices at play in our day.
Is he right?
Is racial injustice alive among us?
And if it is…was his response appropriate?
Interpretations and opinions around this run the gamut. This weeks’ Time magazine has Keapernick on the cover. The cover story reveals that the continuum from great support to death threats has been the response. Whether we agree with Kaepernick and/or his actions – I hope you’ll admit that this is an interesting case study in leadership. Specifically – how do you engage in trying to make progress/change on something you feel strongly about when little appears to be happening.
I’m going to go on record as saying that racial tension is alive and well among us in the USA these days. Don’t laugh – I’m convinced that there are all kinds of interpretations about this. We may not like it, we may feel that one group is to blame more than the other, we may feel that it’s an issue that has been swept under the rug for far too long or may even feel that it’s an issue that has been created by the liberal media and is really not an issue at all. Wherever you may be – I’m going with the idea that this IS an issue and not only that – it is a red hot one.
In an era of name calling and blaming it would seem that our first response would be to blame someone. Just start pointing fingers, defending “our side” and letting the chips fall where they may. But if the quest is to make progress FOR ALL — then I’m not convinced that this option is the best one.
Whatever I personally feel about what is happening in this situation (and I do) I want to offer a couple of observations as it relates to leading in tough situations. Why? Because this story reminds us that acts of leadership have the potential to effect the progress of everyone. And this particular season offers us a window into the correlation between our choices and the potential to help the entire system move forward. Here goes.
First, although I don’t know for sure, it’s my understanding that Kaepernick’s “sit-down” was more than a whim. He had actually been using social media as a means to share concerns about what he felt was social injustice. The move to sit was his next-step at using the platforms at his disposal. Now – I don’t know Colin Kaepernick – and honestly I may be giving him more credit than he deserves – but for the sake of our conversation I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt – that he actually thought about his actions before he did this. He thought about the cost and he anticipated the probable fall out. Whether he did or not – this is what leadership does. It assesses the issue – not only at a head level but at a heart level. It processes what an appropriate response might look like and then it unleashes an experiment. Did it go the way he wanted it to go? You’ll have to ask Colin about that. But he did it.
Second, one thing that I gather from the details of the story is that Kaepernick decided to tweak his course of action after a dialogue with Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who briefly played in the NFL. After their interaction Kaepernick modified his protest from sitting to taking a knee during the national anthem. So – why do you think he would do something like that? Is it a sell out? Is it hypocrisy? Was it wise?
One thing I do feel deeply about is that leadership – real leadership – listens, assesses and modifies its actions when new data is revealed that demands a response. I’m going to give Kaepernick credit for this one. I’m going with the interpretation that after speaking with Boyer – he realized that even though he was committed to an intervention on the issue – a different action was needed to better convey his head and heart. Was it the right one? Once again – I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Let’s face it – this story is far from over but I do believe this – Kaepernick has succeeded (for the good or the bad) in raising the heat around an issue that is real. What’s equally interesting is that this issue is far from the only one that deserves our attention these days. What haunts me about all this is how much I tend to underestimate the sacrifices that are required in order to further the dialogue needed for change – change in my workplace, change in my neighborhood, change in my personal life….you name it.
Although the decision to intervene was not equally loved by all – Kaepernick DID intervene. Not only that – he appeared to listen and tweak that intervention when he felt it was necessary to better communicate his intentions. Remember, real leadership isn’t about the nobility of being right, it’s about the work involved with moving everyone toward a larger goal.