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Marty Linsky

Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .


Unfortunately, President Obama's beer summit dissipated the "teachable moment" he had earlier proclaimed. Bringing Gates and Crowley together was anti-leadership (and why wasn't Lucia Whelan, the woman who made the 911 call, included? Was it a boys-only issue?) He turned down the heat, calmed the situation, just what we want people in authority to do for us: Make things nice.

Obama was embarrassed that his comment about the "stupidity" of the police action had fanned the flames, and he was at risk of having the story displace health care reform at a critical moment in the legislative process. His purpose was to bury the race issue, take the air out of the story, and bypass the opportunity for leadership.

If he had wanted to lead, he would have used his own reaction, as well those of Crowley and Gates, to show that if we let others' behaviors trigger our habitual, default responses, nothing will change.

By Marty Linsky

 |  August 5, 2009; 2:23 PM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Is there a limit on the length and tone of posts at this site? If so, post this:

No other people in the world, except the so-called negro, would remain silent in the face of an all out assault upon themselves, especially their young males, as what has been going on in America respecting racial-profiling and powder vs. rock cocaine false distinction. Dr. King or a Malcolm would challenge us to standup, march or do whatever it took. We have been under attack for more than two decades, Brothers and sisters and decent non-black peoples. Thank Gates, Crawl;ey and Obama for placing the issue of racial-profiling front and center. Appoint a commission, Jealous and Morial, to assess the damage to an entire people of the unconstitutional policies and procedures of law enforcement and the court. Devise a comprehensive program of direct engagement to rectify a problem that, over time, will manifest itself in unimagineable ways, all to the grave detriment of African Americans, first, then all other peoples.

Posted by: turnerwred1234 | August 6, 2009 5:08 PM
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Most of the posts here seem to be leaning toward taking Gates' side of this over the police officer. It's funny that if Gates' stance was that he was racially profiled then, why did it change? If the officer was truly a racist, as a number of you are suggesting, then why drop it? There is a recording of 911 tapes to report the "break-in" and phone calls made by Gates to the chief of police that should be released. We need to put this to bed once and for all. My opinion on this (for what it's worth) is that Gates was tired from his flight, Crowley was a little less than nice to him and Gates exploded. But please remember, it was Gates that raised the race card in this matter and it should be Gates who appologizes. This has nothing to do with race (at least on the officer's part) and it the Post was half the newspaper it use to be they would be working to get every piece of evidence released to get to the bottom of this.

Posted by: thensell | August 6, 2009 4:11 PM
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Stupid was the correct word for the president to have used. The Cambridge police Dept was absolutely wrong on this one. The president had enough facts to know that the arrest of Gates was stupid. The use of police power in a democracy is serious business. When the police act professionally they deserve praise, when they over react and abuse their power someone needs to call them on it. If you look at the history of race riots in this country a great number of them were precipitated by an incident involving the use of force by the police. We still haven't received an explanation as to the false statements in the police report. The president as a black man in America instinctively knew that something was wrong with that picture. If Dr Henry Louis Gates could be taken off his porch in his own house in handcuffs without having committed a crime. Then perhaps the same thing could happen to him. This was indeed a teachable moment. Unfortunately the wrong lessons were learned. What we learned is that a large number of people will apologize for errant police behavior until it happens to them. We also learned that to be critical of police behavior is the 3rd rail in politics. We also most importantly learned that the election of the first African American president has not ushered in a post racial society in America. You have the president being called a racist by a Fox News commentator, you have an about to be confirmed Supreme court justice being called a racist by leading republican commentators. Is that post racial ?

Posted by: edhenson | August 6, 2009 3:25 PM
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Sportsfan2: There is a lot of info on what happened.
I stand by my thesis that if the policeman who trains others on cultural sensitivity,a specialist, can't do any better than Crowley did ... we're screwed! Obama did not invent the racial structures in the US. Obama is part the progress we are making as a nation. This incident and others indicate CLEARLY we are not a post-racial society.

Posted by: smartfunnygal | August 6, 2009 2:04 PM
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A white man that has been arrested under the same circumstances should come forward. The severity of this situation should be pronouced as the officer was wrong. Are officers programed to think they are right, if this is the case America is definitely on the road for a dictatorship society. The professor should not have been arrested. What happened to freedom of speech. Racial profiling is an insult to human intelligence, it is the highest level of unfairness, stupidity, it is wrong, it is a subject and bad behavior that has been swept under the rug far too long. It is time the sorry embarrassment is taken out.

Posted by: alwaysalabama2 | August 6, 2009 1:02 PM
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You know what's "funny" about this whole issue? Obama talked on his whole campaign trail about treating the race issue as so yesterday. He talked all about a change in thinking. He talked about moving forward and to not be an African American President but just a president who would be transparent and bring about change in Washington. He talked about putting all the other issue's behind us and the VERY FIRST TIME a racial situation arose (one he had ZERO facts about) he brings race right to the forefront!! And subsequently set America back 40 years...nice job Obama it sounds like the only one who isn't putting all this stuff aside is YOU.

Posted by: randyhaze | August 6, 2009 12:47 PM
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We all handle matters out of anger, which later returns home to embarrass one-self, and this was certainly one. To have a beer together was a serious effort to ease the racial tension among these two men as well as the country. It is time to grow, realize the conditions we are living through is not about race. The race card has been played for too long as all races were bamboozled into a status of disarray. Racism is the card the rich has played in order to divert the attention away from his tricks of greed.

Posted by: alwaysalabama2 | August 6, 2009 12:27 PM
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Hey "SMARTFUNNYGAL". Your comments are way out of line. You have no idea what actually happened there. It is inappropriate for a President to discuss a local issue that he knows nothing about. It is equally inappropriate for you to discuss the officer's reaction since YOU HAVE NO CLUE WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED THERE.

Posted by: sportsfan2 | August 6, 2009 11:31 AM
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Obama was right in his original commments about the Gates arrest. If Crowley, the Racial Sensitivity Trainer, gets this result in the Gates matter, the Cambridge police and others Crowley has trained are doomed. So maybe stupid was generous ... clueless might be more accurate!

Posted by: smartfunnygal | August 6, 2009 10:47 AM
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I have only one suggestion for President Obama: remove "STUPID" from your lectionary; it's a grade-school word that has no place being used by our President! I'm sure he uses it with his daughters, but he shouldn't use it even with them! Nobody is stupid!

Jeanie W. Reese

Posted by: jreese1 | August 6, 2009 4:14 AM
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The teachable moment was for Obama to keep his mouth shut, no matter how much it hurts.

Posted by: jack29 | August 5, 2009 8:48 PM
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We are so used to giving scores to the human reactions and wanting people to "split the difference" enough to misread this. Yes, it was "stupid" but not because the police are stupid, but because they have fallen into a routine that we can no longer allow. Of course the police officer was confident he was right - they do that all the time. It is as common as bargaining for pleas. But we need to change the police procedures and train the police to new procedures. If we want to have any freedom in our homes, that is.

I do.

So, if you look at the facts all were right in their minds. The answer is to change minds. And procedures.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 5, 2009 7:22 PM
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The guys are at war guys. Look-out for the women and children. The police are busy people. The pols are so busy grand-standing you would think a beer summit was actual leadership. You would be wrong. The water pressure in DC is down and the tap pressure is high. Throw sand on the fire and in their eyes. Play nice in the sand-box kids. I really need to get to the shore for sure. Maybe next year!

Posted by: Dermitt | August 5, 2009 4:48 PM
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Agree. Adding more energy to the situation would only have hurt him. He went for the tie... and it looks like he got it.

Posted by: jhtlag1 | August 5, 2009 4:11 PM
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Gates is very comfortable in the public eye along with his friend Obama. Enough is enough. We all shared the teachable moment now he should grade some papers or something.

Posted by: MOMLEE | August 5, 2009 3:15 PM
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