Watching Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake over the past 12 hours has been the perfect case study in leadership. She has the incredibly difficult tasks of being a solid, compassionate spokesperson for her office, the police officers and other city and state officials who are supporting her, and the citizens of Baltimore, from parents and business owners who are watching their buildings burn to gang members and teens. All the while, the world is watching. There are cameras everywhere. Social media is exploding with images and expletives. And she is expecting to get every word just right. That’s a lot of pressure.
This is the tricky thing about the role of leaders, they are human, too. They, like the rest of us, have emotional responses to stimuli. When this stimuli triggers a fear response, the amygdala sends cortizol rushing through our system and redirects resources from the “smart” parts of our brain to our extremities–putting us in fight, flight or flee mode. So, leaders are often in the nearly impossible position of fighting their own neurology in order to appear calm and get every word just right. And sometimes they don’t.
In this Mayor’s case, she used one word, “destroy”, unintentionally and it has been the source non-stop media scrutiny all night and into this morning. My hope is that cut her some slack right now. We should all be able to empathize with her situation, an unfortunate choice of words at just the wrong time. We have more important work to do rebuilding relationships, and rebuilding Baltimore.