Heads I Think, Tails I Feel

Lance Accountability, Integrity, Leadership, People Leave a Comment

This past Sunday on 60 Minutes, journalist Bill Whitaker told the tragic story of Glenn Ford: wrongfully accused and convicted of capital murder, Ford spent 30 years in the solitary confinement of Louisiana’s Angola prison on “death row” before being exonerated and released … only to die from lung cancer a short time later. One of the things that makes Ford’s case different from most of the “wrongfully convicted – finally exonerated after years in prison” stories we see in the media is the raw, unflinching accountability of the prosecutor who prosecuted Ford in 1983, Marty Stroud.

What stands out even more than the injustice of this case is the sentiments expressed by the person most responsible for freeing Glenn Ford — acting interim District Attorney Dale Cox:

Dale Cox: I don’t know what it is he’s apologizing for. I think he’s wrong in that the system did not fail Mr. Ford.

Bill Whitaker: It did not?

Dale Cox: It did not…in fact…

Bill Whitaker: How can you say that?

Dale Cox: Because he’s not on death row. And that’s how I can say it.

Bill Whitaker: Getting out of prison after 30 years is justice?

Dale Cox: Well, it’s better than dying there and it’s better than being executed—-

[Narrator:] According to Louisiana law, Glenn Ford was entitled to $330,000, about $11,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment. But the state is denying him the money. Why? In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman’s jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn’t report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that’s reason enough to deny him.

Bill Whitaker: Do you believe he should be compensated for the time he spent in prison?

Dale Cox: No, I think we need to follow the law. And the statute does not require that you be charged or convicted or arrested for any of these other crimes. The statute only requires that Mr. Ford prove he didn’t do these other crimes.

Bill Whitaker: Thirty years on death row in solitary confinement and the state of Louisiana releases Mr. Ford with a $20 gift card.

Dale Cox: You’re trying to portray the state of Louisiana as some kind of monster. I got him out of jail as quickly as I could. That’s what the obligation of the state is.

Bill Whitaker: And that’s the end of the state’s obligation?

Dale Cox: As far as I’m concerned.

Bill Whitaker: What about compassion? Have you no compassion for what Mr. Ford has been through?

Dale Cox: Well, you don’t know me at all, do you? But you have no problem asking that question.

Bill Whitaker: No, I’m asking ’cause I’m seeking an answer.

Dale Cox: I’m not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business. I think the ministry is in the compassion business. We’re in the legal business. So to suggest that somehow what has happened to Glenn Ford is abhorrent, yes, it’s unfair. But it’s not illegal. And it’s not even immoral. It just doesn’t fit your perception of fairness.

As a former prosecutor myself who had to navigate the deep waters of several capital cases, the injustice done to Mr. Ford is horrifying and the remorse exhibited by Mr. Stroud is clear and admirable but obviously insufficient. However, what has me referencing this story in this space is the all too familiar outlook expressed by Mr. Cox — an outlook that bifurcates people’s humanity into Emotions vs Reason, Feelings vs Logic, Compassion vs Business. This dichotomy is not true simply because of its near omnipresence in professional spheres, and misrepresents a healthy view of the role of any Professional whether in Business or Law (or Medicine … or Education … or Politics …).

To be human is to be both Rational and Emotional, and to lead with Integrity is to lead a fully integrated person: employing both sides of ourselves as we do our duty and make hard decisions. Contrary to both popular and philosophical thought, our Reason and our Passions are not at war with each other — they are two sides of the same coin: both are necessary and neither is alone sufficient in defining who and what we are. (This point is much better explained by the now departed Robert Solomon in his book A Passion for Justice.)

Of course, it is psychologically easier and more comfortable to turn off our emotional side and just focus on what we believe our duty requires. This is as true for organizational leaders as it is for criminal prosecutors. Telling ourselves and others that hard things and tough calls are “just business” is a powerful tool in getting those hard things done and those tough calls made. But at what price? This mode of operating is the very definition of being “heartless.” When people are involved (as they always are), this outlook creates all kinds of organizational ripple effects and undertow currents that decimate employee engagement and strip away the lifeblood of any cooperative endeavor — Trust. It also risks ignoring the variables and data that can only be purchased using the emotional side of the coin.

Despite its widespread acceptance and textbook rationale on paper, leading an organization doesn’t have to be done this way. In fact, operating with heart can work for even large organizations who aim for profitability year after year in a highly competitive and cost-heavy market.


Southwest Airlines Heart


Of course, maybe the sentimental folks at Southwest are just lucky, and their mind-boggling record of 42 straight years of profitability in an industry defined more by bankruptcies than profits is just a fluke.



Leave a Reply