Leadership Lessons from a Racist Rant

Everyone has covered the story of the Technical Sergeant at Nellis Air Force Base that went off on a racist fueled rant about her black subordinates.  This is a popular story, and the official response from the base was to not only look at the individual but to take a more in-depth look into the base and its subcultures to see if this type of thinking is common.  I don’t know the typical behavior on Nellis, so we are going to look at the lessons a leader can learn from her behavior.

A good leader can look past the things that most racists, sexists, and bigots cannot.  The young women the Sergeant referenced could very well have bad attitudes, and they may not be behaving per the core values the Air Force champions.  A good leader will realize that it is not because they are black; there are other reasons for it.

The first thing we must address is ourselves.  So, is this attitude she experienced caused by her? Perhaps her approach is off.  Maybe she is projecting her personal biases on others and anticipating a disrespectful behavior.  If a leader takes this approach, you are sure to get that reaction.  Judging by the video, it does not seem like she is taking a soft or empathetic approach with her subordinates. Nobody likes to be treated like they are less than others.  Even when they know they are subordinates in the organizational structure, they don’t like to be treated like minions.  A positive and understanding approach is most likely to garner the best results.

Perhaps it is the subordinates.  In this sentence, I do not mean to say “black women” are a problem.  What I do mean is, people will gather based on their similarities; negative attitudes bring people together like moths to a streetlight.  And once they have come together they start to build an internal group culture that has nothing to do with race or sex, and everything to do with leadership.  They continue to reinforce each other’s poor attitudes and behavior until they believe they are doing the right thing.  It takes someone with a very developed set of leadership skills to help them see the truth in their actions.  This was clearly not the case in this issue.

The video was bad, but the fact that she believes this is an issue with black women is much worse.  What kind of culture can she be capable of creating as a leader if she harbors such small-minded beliefs? The Air Force will be wise to understand how it failed to equip her with the leadership skills necessary to deal with conflict and how she could harbor these types of hidden biases even after seeing the value of diversity in our military.  If they take the time to study her behavior, we can then begin to eradicate it from the Air Force.

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