And you thought your first 90 days were tough…

Posted August 5, 2009 in Latest News & Insights

It’s summer time, and this LeaderTalker has been enjoying some R&R that has involved quite a bit of plane travel.  All I can say is THANK YOU to whoever invented seat-back personal televisions!  On my recent flight back from the beautiful Tofino, BC, I stumbled on a real gem of a movie that showcased truly courageous leadership.

The movie is a very cool documentary called “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”.  The story recaps what happened following April 4, 1968… the day Martin Luther King Jr.  was assassinated.  Immediately after King’s death racial riots began erupting and cities were burning across the US.  Boston, no stranger to racial tensions, was a powder keg set to blow… and to add to the mayhem, James Brown, was set to perform downtown on April 5th.  The mayor and other city officials worried that the concert may lead to rioting and destruction and initially contemplated cancelling the concert.

But here’s where the first example of courageous leadership emerges:   Kevin White, the newly elected mayor of Boston… he was a in his late 30’s and had been on the job less than 100 days… listened to his advisors and made the decision that cancelling the concert would do more damage than going ahead with it.  He brokered a deal to televise the event and encouraged people to stay home to minimize the potential for chaos.  This decision wasn’t without creating complications that White, in the moment, wasn’t sure how he was going to handle… but he stepped up, took a risk and ultimately set a foundation (albeit a shaky one) to save Boston from burning.

Which brings us to the second act of courageous leadership: James Brown took the stage and soon found himself surrounded by members of the audience who started to jump on the stage.  The Boston police started getting antsy.  Watching the film, you can almost feel the tension in the air.  But that’s when Brown steps up and takes control.  He tells the Boston PD to step back and then starts telling the crowd to step back.  When they don’t comply and start getting boisterous, Brown begins to chastise them for their behaviour.  He gets control of the audience after giving them a stern lecture on respect for him and for themselves as a race of people.

For fans of Michael Watkins book “The First 90 Days”,  one can’t help but be in awe of how well Kevin White fared and wonder how different the outcome would have been if his competitor (a pro-segregationist) had been sitting in the mayoral seat at the pivotal time.  She probably wouldn’t have been elected to four consecutive terms!

Kevin White and James Brown not only demonstrate courageous leadership but reinforce the truth that, as leaders, we can’t always be prepared for what’s going to land on our desks.  But, like Brown and White, we can step up to the challenges by drawing  on our advisors, from our experiences and being authentic in our leadership choices and decisions.

Happy leading!


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