leadership in times of crisis

Last Thursday, a gunman entered a building on the campus of Seattle Pacific University and opened fire, killing one student and injuring two others.  The June 5 shooting at the small, private Christian university was one of a spate of school shootings that the nation has witnessed over the last couple weeks, but the outcome in this instance provides us with a shining example of courage and heroism from which we can draw lessons.

In fact, Jon Meis, the young man being hailed as a hero for his actions that day, displayed and continues to display some outstanding qualities of leadership in the face of this tragic event.  Let’s take a look at three important qualities of leadership that Jon Meis has displayed in this crisis.

1.  In a moment of tremendous stress and pressure, he was able to calmly assess the situation.  Mr. Meis did not panic or freeze up when the gunman began to open fire right before his eyes.  He began preparing himself by readying his pepper spray and closely observing the actions of the assailant.  His ability to control his emotions and remain level-headed during the crisis laid the foundation for his successful intervention.

2.  When the opportunity presented itself, he took bold and decisive action.  Despite great risk to himself, Jon Meis did not hesitate in seizing the opportunity to halt the attack when the shooter (who was also armed with a knife) stopped to reload his shotgun.  He immediately confronted the gunman face-to-face.  Meis first used his pepper spray on the gunman and then tackled him.  He was soon joined by other brave students who rallied to Jon’s aid, and together they were able to subdue the assailant until police arrived.  The quick actions of Jon and his classmates undoubtedly saved many lives at a time when indecision and hesitation almost assuredly would have meant a further loss of life.

3.  He has remained humble and not lost sight of what is important.  Since the tragic assault ended, Mr. Meis has been hailed as a hero and has garnered a lot of media attention.  Nevertheless, this twenty-two-year-old has shown remarkable humility and maturity.  Meis credited God’s grace for enabling him to stop the shooter.  He has shied away from the limelight for the most part, but his public statements reveal an overriding concern for the students of his university and even the assailant.  When people started pouring money into an online campaign supporters set up for him and started buying things on his wedding registry for him and his fiancée, Meis asked that any further donations be directed to the victims through the university.  Meis has also shown concern and compassion for the gunman.  “When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man,” Meis wrote in a written statement through Seattle Pacific University.  While admitting that he isn’t personally ready to forgive the attacker, Meis wrote, “I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.”  Jon Meis has not lost sight of what is truly important: the health and well being of his fellow students and his community.

The shooting at Seattle Pacific University was a senseless act of violence and murder, and seldom will people find themselves faced with the kind of immediate life-and-death decisions Jon Meis was faced with that day.  Yet, we can learn important lessons about leadership from Jon’s actions.  Good leaders remain calm and focused when trouble arises, and they prepare for what must be done to rectify the situation.  When the time comes to take action, they do so boldly and decisively with the understanding that not making a decision or taking action can be a mistake as costly or perhaps more costly than making the wrong decision or taking the wrong course of action.  Finally, a good leader is able to keep things in perspective and remember that what he or she does should be for the benefit of those he or she leads and not for his or her own self-aggrandizement.  Little good ever comes from such tragedies, but one thing this incident can show us is how a young man named Jon Meis beautifully exemplifies some of the most valuable qualities of great leaders.

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