Creative Leadership in Times of Crisis

Would pursuing the moral high road make a difference in your business?


In this short clip, leadership expert Troy Jackson explains that often our most creative leadership moments occur during times of crisis—because when chaos rises, your followers look to you for direction.

Troy gives the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who refused to respond with violence even after a bomb exploded in his home. Dr. King’s followers were very prepared to retaliate with violence, but he made the creative decision to respond with peaceful demonstration and as a result, so did his followers.

During the Montgomery bus boycott, about eight weeks into it, they were having a large public meeting which they had a couple of times a week at that point at a local church and Dr. King was there. After he had spoken there was a bit of a rustle and some folks came up to him and said, "You've got to come with us right now." What he learned from his friends was a bomb had exploded at his home where Coretta and his newborn daughter were there and he was not.

So he rushed to the house and was relieved to find out that the bomb had blown up the porch and had affected the front of the house but Coretta and their young daughter were in the back of the house and they were unharmed. When Dr. King got there and examined what had happened, there were also hundreds of people from the community, largely African Americans, who were very upset and were ready to defend Dr. King, were ready to respond to violence with violence. Dr. King, to that point had not really made a commitment to nonviolent resistance. Non-violence for him was more of a strategy or a tactic as opposed to a way of life which he later adopted. In that moment, he had the creativity to respond by saying to the people, "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword. Put away your weapons. Put away your anger. Let's work together. Let's stay committed to the boycott. Let's stay committed to peaceful demonstration. Let's make this movement the best of who we are as a people here in Montgomery, Alabama."

In some ways, that moment was a moment where King's leadership could have gone a very different direction, but he had the ability to be creative. I believe non-violence is a creative move in a world that is filled with eye for an eye and tooth for tooth and violence begets violence. He made a creative act to lead the people into a non-violent place.

When we think about creativity and leadership, I often think the best creative moments are not when we're out on a retreat looking over a placid, beautiful lake with mountains in the background. The creative moments that really bring breakthrough are in moments of crisis, moments when the chips are down, moments when we have to think in a different way to move forward and lead into where we need to take our organizations.

Troy Jackson

Leadership expert Troy Jackson has been involved in community organizing for four years—first as a volunteer leader and then as a faith organizer in Cincinnati and throughout Ohio. He has been actively involved in calling for comprehe...

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