One Huge Lesson Executives can learn from Tragedy in Baltimore

We have all been shocked at the rioting and destruction in one of America’s great cities- Baltimore, Maryland. The full extent of the damage done by the violence in Baltimore will not be known for months. But we do know this – probably 100 shops, businesses, and gas stations were burned and ransacked. Parts of this grand city were turned into a War Zone. Shopkeepers fled in fear of their lives as looters, seeking a Five-finger discount, stole everything. A family of four, living in an apartment above the liquor store they owned, fled to save their lives when their store was set ablaze beneath their feet by the rioters.

But suddenly, a week after the riots started, calm has returned to that City. The city lifted its curfew, the National Guard is exiting and a mall that was the center-point of the riots has reopened.

One huge lesson that Executives can learn from the situation in Baltimore is this: Distrust leads to Chaos. Unless, you have trust, nothing is going to happen positively in your organization. When trust is absent, everything deteriorates.

I have been sickened by the chaos that has ensued in so many places in the United States — locations like Ferguson County, Philadelphia, New York, and Florida. Yes- the trigger that lit these flames of chaos was alleged police misconduct targeting minorities but the reason these matters get out of hand and continue for months on end is the direct result of a lack of TRUST.

Until now . . . Marilyn J. Mosby took decisive action. She is the Baltimore State Attorney who announced on Friday that 6 police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a young man who died a couple of weeks ago after suffering a severe spinal injury while in police custody.

I have never met Ms. Mosby and I am quite sure that she and I differ politically but she did something very positive that all Executives can learn from. She established Trust.

She reestablished Trust with the people of Baltimore and as a result, the chaos has been quelled.

Let me be upfront – I don’t know whether those 3 black and 3 white police officers in Baltimore are guilty as charged. I am naturally sympathetic with them as they undoubtedly have put their lives on the line everyday to protect their fellow citizens of Baltimore.

But someone had to stand up and move forward aggressively. Ms. Mosby has done that. It should be noted that Marilyn is the daughter and granddaughter of police officers. I am confident that she has not taken this matter of filing charges against the law enforcement personnel lightly.

Critics will accuse Ms. Mosby of playing politics and say she moved forward too quickly with insufficient proof. But given her strong family history in law enforcement combined with the fact that prosecutors do not like to bring cases they cannot win, I suspect this prosecutor has a strong case.

But regardless of how this prosecution plays out, my point today is simply this. Trust is essential to any organization whether it is the City of Baltimore or IBM. Here are five ways leaders can engender Trust:

1. Deliver on your Promises

Be a person of integrity- Be the one who is known for delivering on commitments.

2. Be Transparent in your Communications 

When the opportunity to be vague arises, don’t do it!

3. Be Decisive

People hate fence-sitters. I would rather make a good decision today than a great decision 30 days from now.

4. Speak from your Heart

The easiest thing to do is to just state facts. But you need to show your compassion. Be willing to trust others by expressing your personal emotions. You will find your followers will reciprocate that Trust.

Follow up with a sense of Urgency – get the news out quickly – whether it be bad or good. When information is known, share it.

Remember this as a leader: Trust does not come automatically. It is the direct result of honest, open, and frequent communications.

Back in January, Mosby acknowledged the long-standing problems between residents and the police. She spoke passionately about her hope to help bridge that “trust gap.” She even stated: “There are barriers of distrust within the community and law enforcement.”  She knew there was a problem, attacked it decisively, communicated openly and from her heart and good things happened.

I recently wrote in my book “Up Your Game,” that the reality of today’s leadership demands individuals who will develop deep and trusting relationships. When trust exists in an organization, everything accelerates. When trust doesn’t exist, things slow down because people will always be trying, from the CEO down, to cover their own tracks. When trust is lacking, people are afraid to take bold action.

So whether you run the City of Baltimore or International Business Machines, Trust is essential to your success. In fact, Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s Founder, once said:  “The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.”

Trust, for now, has been restored to the City of Baltimore. May each Executive recognize that powerful need for Trust and the amazing power for good it can have on accelerating the accomplishments of your organization.

– David Bradford


Posted in Posted in Events, Lessons Learned, Up Principles, What I Learned From  |  11 Comments

11 thoughts on “One Huge Lesson Executives can learn from Tragedy in Baltimore”

  1. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this article, David. It is full of hope and great instruction that I, though I am neither a CEO (yet) nor the Utah State Attorney, am excited to apply to my life now. I hope that all is well with you and your businesses!


    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Liz. I appreciate your input. Wishing you the best always – David

  2. Thank you for the insiteful analasys of the situation in Baltimore. I appreciate you pointing this out. People should remember that trust is earned, and it will only happen if people respond with integrity, especially under pressure. Thanks David!

  3. I have to agree. I have been analyzing the behavior in many legal ethic and emergency discussions since it started . If more Ms. Mosby’s had existed when it began in Ferguson … Would we be here? Ferguson was a town taken over by gangs, political educational leaders that were fired for scandalous acts, when 20 years ago.. The grandmother ‘s and the Ms.Mosby’s were not a rare breed, they were raising their grandchildren . As executive’s always point out the your employees’ positives, but don’t let it get to the point that you are no longer leading the company. Yes, the customer is right, but, transparency in nda’s?? Tha has always been a tough topic . Be trustworthy from the start, clear , concise , not having to give all trade secrets away( in other words don’t give your secret recipe), but earning trust and respect by unwavering resilience. Set your standards, raise your expectations, and train your next replacements. You’ll be surrounded by respect. Respect one of the fundamental keys to true, non wavering success .

    1. Thanks so much for your great insights Christina. Thx for speaking from your heart. I really appreciate your input. Wishing you the best always – David

  4. Let me add., I learned from experience. During the desegregation era in St.Louis many high school students were bussed from Ferguson into suburban schools. I had a twin brother very involved in foot lab. Their grandmother ‘s would call to make sure they were being courteous, and had made it our home safely after a game. As I became a leader, and a mother I remember how much this touched me. I trained my employees and spoke from my heart. Often having a hard time firing an employee for dishonesty feeling it was personal. I wanted to ad, that if you treat your staff, and your clientele as your family .. You will have no regrets.( …unless you have a very dysfunctional family , then I highly suggest a good therapist .. I just wanted to always add life’s too short not to laugh at yourself along the way, don’t ever be afraid to have fun). You never know how long your career or your loved ones will last. Enjoy every moment.

  5. I came here thinking I would disagree with you (we differ politically); I was wrong. Thanks for the thoughtful and carefully written commentary.

  6. David you have hit on the most vital part of leadership… As president Truman understood so clearly….”The Buck stops here”. The problems we are having in our inner cities are indeed a problem of trust, but I think it starts at the top. I predicted after the last election to my family and friends that if the President didn’t start to deliver on his promises to the poor and middle class that there would be riots in the streets just like during President Johnson’s administration. Johnson just like President Obama was found wanting in the area of trust, because he over promised and under delivered. Our current President has propped up the banks and Wall Street investors, but the poor and middle class are worse off today than when he took office. I believe that reasons why we are having riots is 1) frustration that a black President has not helped his own people and 2) the criminals sense that it is open season and they will not be punished. If all of these black people are so upset over the killing by the police of a couple of young men then why aren’t they up in arms over the hundreds of young black men that are murdered by their own people in cities like Chicago and Detroit every year?. The criminals don’t care about the young men that are killed by police. They could care less. All they want to do is steal and cause havoc, because the feel that that have been lied to by their President and they have no hope for the future. As far as making quick good decisions that might be advisable in business, but when it comes to matters of law and charging police officers with murder I think slow is better. Ms. Mosley is inexperienced and I believe her rush to judgement is going to blow right back in her face and cause further disillusionment on the part of the people in her community. Trust in leadership is everything and grand standing and publicity stunts for political reasons are short lived. The unrest and chaos will continue, because today as a country we are a ship without a rudder!

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