Brasfield: Leadership in Unexpected Places

  • Published: August 12, 2017
  • The County Line | By Sonny Brasfield, ACCA Executive Director | County Commission August 2017

    Leadership in Unexpected Placesbrasfield-08-12-v2

    In times of stress, we need leadership – not panic and finger pointing

    Sometimes it takes a little leadership – even from unexpected places.

    Time was ticking away on a sidewalk in Columbus, Ohio. Escambia County Commissioner Larry White and I were pacing around, watching a gathering mob. Our luggage was inside the trunk of a taxi, with the engine running and the keys locked in the ignition. After just a few short minutes, a dozen taxi drivers had stopped to help with the situation.

    The usual approach to solving such a problem – using a twisted coat hanger to unlock the driver’s door – had failed miserably. Failed, in fact, over and over. The guys with the coat hangers had finally given up and driven away. And the opportunity to make it to the airport in time to get home before midnight was slipping away too.

    Then the driver of another taxi decided that if he untwisted the car’s radio antenna, it might be stiff enough to push the “unlock” button on the armrest of the driver’s seat. This effort, too, proved unsuccessful. The shouts of ideas grew louder.

    Call the police. Break out a window. Find a locksmith.

    Each idea was screamed in the direction of the driver, who was clearly at the center of a problem he was unprepared to solve.

    All the while, Larry and I wondered if anyone understood the real problem. We were simply two guys from Alabama, minding their own business, who wanted to get home. And, to be honest, both of us had decided that we’d leave the luggage in the trunk if someone would get us to the airport on time.

    Then, some leadership showed up.

    An Alabama county engineer and a friend we’ve made over the years from Minnesota strolled down the sidewalk and calmly took over the project. The fella from Minnesota sized up the situation and took the antenna from one of the screaming taxi drivers. He refocused the efforts to the passenger side of the car, altered the approach of his plan and, somehow, tuned out the screaming chaos around him. Within three minutes, the car was unlocked and the crisis was over.

    It just takes a little leadership.

    For more than 30 minutes, several taxi drivers (and other passers-by) had frantically tried to solve the problem by shouting out ideas, directing traffic and blaming the driver who had locked the keys in the car. Trouble is, in times of stress, we need leadership – not panic and finger pointing.

    Today, many objective observers would say communities in Alabama face the same kind of crisis that Larry and I encountered in Columbus. The leaders of Alabama have frantically searched for some easy solution that does not require any of us to invest very much in our communities. We’ve finger pointed, shouted obvious ideas and created discord among folks that should be allies. And, like the gathering crowd of taxi drivers, we have quickly proven ourselves to be ineffective.

    What we need now, of course, is for some leadership to stroll down the sidewalk. The kind of leadership that sizes up the problem, discounts the usual solutions and gets us all on the road to the airport.

    At the Association’s convention in August we will focus attention on that kind of leadership. For today, at the local level, this Association is committed to growing leaders. It is too easy to run for office, pledge to do something that you can never do, and then settle into the daily routine of blaming and screaming. Alabama and its counties have suffered for way too long because of that approach to problem solving.

    Many of the convention’s sessions will focus on real opportunities that exist for elected officials and staff members to take up the challenge of being real leaders. During one segment of the program, seven members of the county family will talk about their experiences as leadership from a variety of angles. Somewhere in that discussion, each and every county official and employee in attendance should be able to find information that will allow them to unlock the door in their community.

    For far too long in Alabama, especially in the last few years, leaders have been more interested in pointing out the failings of other leaders, blaming the problems on someone else and have shouted out obvious – and unproductive – ideas that serve only to generate new, and even more complicated, problems.

    The solution lies not in solving the individual crisis at hand, but in equipping people with a passion for leading inside their community. At the local level, that’s really the only hope for our state to make any significant improvement. Clearly, today our local communities are at a crossroad.

    Alabama’s plane home is about to pull out of the gate. And, unfortunately, we are standing around on a sidewalk watching people yell at each other. Our only hope is that there is at least one person in every county who will resolve to lead the community away from the screaming crowd and toward a real solution.

    I hope you’ll join us in August as we focus on those opportunities.

    Be there! August 22-24, 2017 | ACCA Annual Convention