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Former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best: What great leaders need to understand about diversity

Best shares an excerpt from her new book, 'Black in Blue: Lessons on Leadership, Breaking Barriers, and Racial Reconciliation.'
Pride Parade 2018
Carmen Best at the Seattle Pride Parade 2018 when she was chief of police of the Seattle Police Department.Seattle PD Photo Unit / Sean Jordan, Seattle Police Phot

Former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best was at the forefront of some of the most difficult challenges the city has ever faced. In 2020 alone, she led the Seattle Police Department through a mass shooting, a global pandemic and escalated protests.

In her new book, “Black in Blue: Lessons on Leadership, Breaking Barriers, and Racial Reconciliation,” Best shares the leadership lessons she learned as the city’s first Black woman police chief and through some of the most critical events in policing history.

In her tenure, Best worked to increase diversity in the force. She grew the department by 110 officers in 2019, 40 percent of whom were people of color. As decisions to defund the police took hold in August 2020, Seattle City Council voted to downsize the department by 50 percent, which would cut those with the least amount of time on the force. Best resigned, stating that she couldn’t in good conscience shrink and reduce diversity in her department.

Below is an excerpt adapted from Best’s new book:

Meeting new people and building relationships with them is the best way to confront the realities of the world. Cultural differences challenge you to become more aware of the world and what other people go through. They push you to see the other not as a menace to your safety and stability but as a way to enrich your own cultural awareness and evolve as an individual. Adapting to other cultures and lifestyles will prove to be both difficult and exciting, because it is through those tests that you will learn so much more about your personality and the role you play in the world.

Exposing yourself to other ways to life will build resiliency and will open your mind to new possibilities, as you expand your horizons and welcome new people, language, and yes, even ways to cook unfamiliar food. It is through those relationships that you not only grow as a person but also learn to appreciate others. Essentially, meeting people different from me in basic training and throughout my military career—especially people I met abroad—taught me an invaluable lesson, one that I would eventually apply to my own leadership style: respect for other people’s values and boundaries.

As a leader, it is pivotal that you learn how to respect others in their diversity, whether it be cultural, religious, or sexual. We are all different, but it is our differences that make us who we are. And it is who we are that helps us build a successful team. And it is a successful team that will power through and complete the mission, no matter how challenging it is.

And now, it’s your turn to think of the value of adaptability, the true power of teamwork, and the importance of respecting boundaries and appreciating diversity.

1. When was the first time you found yourself having to adapt to a set of rules you did not understand at first but then learned to follow and appreciate?

2. Can you think of a time when teamwork proved to be invaluable to completing an important task?

Carmen Best at an event during her tenure as chief of police of the Seattle Police Department.Seattle PD Photo Unit / Sean Jordan, Seattle Police Phot

3. How do you set boundaries in your personal and professional life?

4. Do you find it challenging to understand diversity and respect other people’s boundaries? Or do you welcome cultural, religious, and sexual differences within both your personal and professional life?

Yes, we are all individuals, and we are all different. But we are also human beings sharing a short portion of time together on this planet. So why focus our energy exclusively on ourselves when we could help other members of society who are just trying to do what they can and cope the best way they can with whatever physical, emotional, or mental obstacle they face? If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that, as the whole world whispered in unison, we are all in this together.

Carmen Best became the first Black woman to serve as Seattle's chief of police. Carmen is also a NBC/MSNBC analyst and the author of the new book "Black in Blue: Lessons on Leadership, Breaking Barriers, and Racial Reconciliation," available now.