A Leadership Test: What Would You Do?

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:


  1. Get out of the car (or up out of your chair).
  2. Actively listen to the protesters and what they have to say.
  3. Keep your emotions under control. Continue to respectfully listen.
  4. Try to determine what the protesters want. Can you meet some of their “demands?”
  5. Work to de-escalate, be calm, maintain eye contact. Be respectful. Can we meet later?
  6. Radiate calmness in the face of conflict. Be peaceful.
  7. Continue to listen. Respectfully answer questions. Don’t be “baited.”


  • What do you think? How would you respond?


  1. Interesting situation. Conversation and dialogue should have been ongoing much prior to this encounter…every attempt to hear the issues and work on resolution should have been taken.

    I am only familiar with the situation based on media coverage and based on that my assessment is that there has not been enough or any reaching out to the stakeholders involved here. There is no trust, there is no existing relationship(s). A program will never replace a philosophy.

    In order to be successful in our mission to foster peace and to guard against injustice, we must hear the contentions and together work to move toward positive change. I am not sure that even if the President of the University were to attempt to engage at the moment presented on the video he would have received a listening ear….but the attempt to engage and listen should have been made. He was not prepared; as a President that is supposed to be working for every student, he must be. This video is unfortunate because it could have, with the correct mindset and level of cultural and emotional intelligence, been turned into an opportunity to start the understanding and healing process.


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