Category: Leaderhship

Take a Knee

I have always enjoyed watching Colin Kaepernick play. He plays with abandon, exhorting his team mates, taking risks, and showing the courage to stand his ground and take the hits that sometimes come from making a play. I’m just a fan, an emotional one I will admit, and it gives me pause to see him treated with disdain by so many.

Now it’s a different game for Mr. Kaepernick. He has taken a knee. He declared that kneeling in silence while everyone else stands for our national anthem is his way of saying ENOUGH! Our police unjustly kill people of color, and I have to do something to call attention to it. Every time he does it, or others join him, it affects us. By taking a knee, he has used the power of silence combined with the visible sign of resistance. “I will no longer participate in this,” he says so powerfully. It reminds us that the reason for taking the knee is ongoing. The problem remains, and deep inside us, I believe we know that his cause is just.

So many of my friends ( I am an elder white male) chide me for taking Mr. Kapernick’s side. They get upset when they see him take the knee. “He won’t stand for our Anthem” is the most common thing they say, And in their logic, he deserves punishment for doing so. When I posted my support on facebook, I got no “likes” and no “comments.”

Anytime someone raises the “undiscussable” they can expect to get push back from their group. They break the norm, (the undiscussed way of acting in a given situation. If you want to experience this for yourself in a safe way, face the back of the elevator next time you are in one, and you will experience what it’s like when people shun you (in a light way.)

The question I have learned to ask when I get challenged about my support for Mr. Kaepernick is, “When would you take a knee? What circumstances would have to exist for you to decide to take a knee in a stadium? What about at work? Have you ever taken a knee for something you believe in? Can you give me an example? These are great conversation starters. I mean it. Try them out. And the stories will lead to new insights about your friends.

Acting ethically is fundamental to business. The executives at Enron did not take a knee, and they were known as the brightest around. The executives at Volkswagon didn’t take a knee, and neither did the executives at Wells Fargo. Arthur Andersen is no longer around. The Challenger exploded because no one dared to take a knee.

And it’s one I have had to answer for myself. I have taken a knee, and because of doing so I launched my consulting career thirty years ago. When I reported my boss for sexually harassing my reports, I got the visit from HR. It hurt. I remember going home to my wife and saying, “I am going to be a consultant now. You will have to keep us afloat until I get enough business.” We survived, and we never looked back. Now I get paid well for telling people the truth.

Going along and not speaking up causes so much pain in the long run. We all need to learn how to stop a group process at times. It’s one of the real ways to innovate. Mr. Kaepernick proves this point. I respect your opinion about his action but at least admit that he does not deserve punishment for calling out attention to a real problem. And I will not be watching this season until Mr. Kaepernick gets a job offer. I want to see him play again and deep down I believe you do too.