I am sure all of you have heard about the unfortunate incident that happened to Shirley Sherrod over the past 48 hours. She was fired by the USDA for alleged racial comments for a speech she made in 2009. The in-complete video was published on Monday and the reaction to it by her boss, the NAACP and the right was swift. Heads needed to role and she lost her job. Fortunately, after viewing her complete speech, it showed her comments did not reflect a racial bias but instead, poverty was the root of the issue she was presenting on.
Apologizes immediately came from her boss, the administration, NAACP, Fox News and the USDA offered her a new job. As I write this post, she has not determined if she will accept.
What happened here and what can we learn from this situation as leaders?
First, the Agriculture Secretary made an impulsive decision largely due to issues going on with in his agency and the sensitivities to a very toxic environment about race in our society today. The Wall Street Journal reported today that the USDA has been settling tens of thousands of discrimination lawsuits against it for the past 18months. Mr Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary, wanted to show that he would not tolerate discrimination in any form. He took action swiftly and made the call to terminate Shirley.
Leaders need to make decisions all the time. Some need to be made swiftly without complete information. Other decisions need careful deliberation….like this one should have had. What can leaders do when faced with politically charged issues and pressure from the public or other stakeholders to make decisions.
.1 Slow down. Get the complete facts. Ask questions to as many people on both sides of the issue. Communicate to your stakeholders that you are reviewing the issue carefully and will make a decision as soon as additional information and facts are revealed. Let people know a time frame in which you will make the decision. It is amazing when you slow down how clear things become.
2. Check your motive and ego at the door when making tough decisions. Your motives drive your behavior, behavior your actions, your actions your results. Ask yourself what motive is driving you to make this decision or take this action. If your motive is selfish or one that will make you look good, check it, and ask for feedback and opinions from others you trust who will give you straight feedback and answers.
.3 Explain your final decision to those involved and affected. Share if you can, information and facts used in making your decision.
Take responsibility for your actions and move on.
Finally, I am not sure what the end result will be but I was struck by how humble Shirley was through out this process and Mr. Vilsack taking responsibility for his actions.
Let me know what you learned from this incident and what you will do differently when faced with a difficult decision.