Ferguson's Capt. Ron Johnson: The Middle Ground
April 2, 2019
Carly sits down with retired Highway Patrolman, Capt. Ron Johnson, who was tasked by Gov. Jay Nixon to control and defuse riots in Ferguson, MO, after the death of Michael Brown.
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Carly Fiorina: I'm Carly Fiorina and this is By Example. On this podcast we sit down with leaders of all types to explore examples of real leadership and the qualities of all great problem solvers. I think we get really confused about what leadership is. On By Example, we lift up the real leaders. People who are focused on changing the order of things for the better and solving real problems that are right in front of them, leading by example. Speaker 2: Breaking news. Police fire teargas on protestors in Ferguson. Speaker 3: A fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri has had an impact on perceptions of race relations across the country. Governor Jay Nixon today ordered the National Guard out of Ferguson. Last week, the governor put State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson in charge of keeping the peace. Speaker 4: Some call him a hero others have labeled him a coward. Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol led the police response to the unrest in Ferguson back in 2014. Speaker 5: After a tense five-day standoff that drew national attention and criticism, Missouri's governor bet on Highway Patrol, Captain Ron Johnson to take over the lead of the police response and Captain Johnson took his own gamble. For all that's seared in Saint Louis is collective memory about August of 2014, one thing that can be easy to forget about the first few days after Michael Brown's death is just how uncertain each hour seemed on the streets of Ferguson. Johnson ordered armored police units to stand down, took off his own protective vest and walked with protestors. Carly Fiorina: Captain Johnson, thank you so much for joining me on By Example. We call this podcast By Example because I think we learn about leadership by example. Sometimes we throw the title leader on people because they have position, or title, or fame, or money, or power, but I think in fact, we learn what leadership is through someone's example of their courage, their character, their humility, their empathy for others, which is what allows a leader to collaborate, especially with people different than themselves. And we know a leader by the results they produce, the possibilities they see even in the toughest of circumstances and particularly in the people they see around them. Carly Fiorina: And so I am so honored to have you on By Example, because I truly believe that you are among the finest leaders that I've ever had the privilege to talk to. And I know that through your example, we've never met before, but I know that through your example. So thank you for being on By Example, and being an example for all the rest of us. Welcome. Ron Johnson: Well, I'm honored to be here and I'm definitely honored by your words. Carly Fiorina: Well, you've earned them over and over again. Let me start way back at the beginning if I could. Ron Johnson: All right. Carly Fiorina: What led you into the highway patrol? What caused you to be attracted to law enforcement and security services in the first place? Ron Johnson: Well, I think as a young man, I thought our justice system needed to be more diverse just in the community that I grew up in. And I began to watch law enforcement in the community that I grew up in. And I wanted to be, that's what I wanted to be, I wanted to be like those men that I saw and women that I saw, that were setting an example for me. Carly Fiorina: And what about their example did you want to emulate? What was it about them that inspired you to try and be like them? Ron Johnson: You know, wanting to help others, being compassionate and understanding, but I think just being a part of the community, being there and being a pillar in the community. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. And you know what? That's so important that you say that, because so often, and particularly in the difficult times in Ferguson that propelled you into the national limelight, so often we don't think of law enforcement as being part of a community. We think about a community and law enforcement being at odds with each other. So obviously that was an important example. Ron Johnson: It was. And I think as I got older, I began to see the separation more so, where some people didn't see it as an enticing career, an enticing thing to be, in my community. Carly Fiorina: When did you first start to think about yourself as a leader or someone who could set an example for others? Those people inspired you by their example, was there a time when you realized, "I'm setting an example for other people?" Ron Johnson: Well, I think in law enforcement, a lot of times we come across the citizens that we serve during tragic times. And I think when you're a part of that, and people are looking up to you, and people are calling, and people are asking you for advice, then you know you're being more than just a policeman. And sometimes you're been a father to others, sometimes you're being a counselor, and so then you begin to see that you're leading others in their lives. Carly Fiorina: I mentioned the word empathy when I first started. And I think empathy is such an important quality in great leaders and you've shown it so often. You've shown it in the story you just told. Sometimes people will say, "Well, it's hard to be a figure of authority and have empathy at the same time." Talk a little bit about that balance between authority and maybe telling someone something they don't want to hear, and being empathetic to whatever it is they're going through. Ron Johnson: For me, I've always put the uniform on, but it doesn't define me. And the things that define me each day before I put that uniform on are the things that I would bring to work. Being a son, a father, a friend, a husband, and all those other things, and just being a man. And I think when you look at life from a personal standpoint, then you can have empathy for others and use your own personal experiences, those that were positive and those that were negative in your life. And so I think I always used those when I dealt with people and even in my personal life. Carly Fiorina: It's so true that our, so many of our personal experience, I mean we're shaped by our personal experiences, all of us are. But I think sometimes people get into a position of leadership and forget those unfortunately, or they think they're supposed to know all the answers or have it all figured out, and we're all human and we don't know all the answers and we don't have it all figured out. Carly Fiorina: I also think, at least in my own personal life, some of the hardest experiences I've had are those that gave me the most empathy. We lost a daughter to addiction, and that was a terribly difficult experience, something you don't wish on anyone. And yet I realize now, that going through that experience gave me an empathy and an understanding of circumstances that I would not have had without that tragedy in my own life. Ron Johnson: I agree. In Ferguson, the tragedy that happened there, the incident had happened there, a few years before I had lost my brother. Carly Fiorina: Oh, sorry. Ron Johnson: And I remember the pain that my parents had. And so I would tell people that no matter what you thought about the incident in Ferguson, there were still two parents who lost their son, and we needed to understand that. And so I do think that our experiences are tough at times, impact our leadership decisions in a positive way, if we use them. Carly Fiorina: Yes. You're also a man of deep faith. You talk openly about your faith. I think we learn through our faith the power of both humility and empathy. Talk a little bit about how your faith, if you don't mind, how your faith has guided you, or strengthened you, or helped you get through the tough times. Carly Fiorina: There have been times in my life when I felt like all that was keeping me going was my faith and my family. But can you share a little bit of that with us? Ron Johnson: You know what? I think doing Ferguson, I found myself a leader alone. Carly Fiorina: I'm sure. Ron Johnson: It's a difficult time in our country. And I found myself walking in the middle of the road. And I think for me it was the first time that publicly I really talked about my faith, but I really needed it. There was one day where I was leaving for work, and I had been carrying this book in my pocket. It's the one that gave me good luck. And both of my kids are Catholic and I'm Baptist. So I got married to a Catholic. And so one of my kids, had brought a rosary at home and put it on a board in our home, about four or five years before Ferguson. I never asked him why but I knew it had something to do with faith, and blessing our home. Ron Johnson: But this morning when I was leaving for work after I had a bad day, for some reason, I looked at that rosary before I left home, and I knew that my leadership wasn't about luck, it was about where I got my strength from, about my faith. And even though I'm Baptist, I took that rosary out of my pocket ...I mean, I took the book out of my pocket and put it on the desk, and then I put that rosary in my pocket. And I began to grab that a rosary and one day the rosary had broken into beads in my pocket. I put in a plastic bag, and I'd carry that around because that's where my strength comes. That's where my experiences and my failures that I've been able to learn from. My ability to get back up, it's because of my faith and my belief. Carly Fiorina: You just used a word, failure, that's a really heavy word for people. And there's so many people who are afraid to fail. I would call it differently, I think we all make mistakes, we're human. And yet we don't get better, we can't possibly lead, we can't achieve all that we're intended to, we can't fulfill our potential unless we've gotten knocked down a bunch, failed a lot, made mistakes, the goal is not to fail the same way twice. Carly Fiorina: Before Ferguson, and we're going to get to Ferguson in a moment, but was there a mistake you made or a failure you had that you learned a lot from that comes to mind? Ron Johnson: Yeah. And I'll do fine, I think failure is given opportunity to get up and become better. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: You just don't want to be to defeated. Carly Fiorina: That's right. Ron Johnson: And so those are different. I think for me in Ferguson, before Ferguson, I had been a young trooper. And I think we all have biases. And so I was working this accident in a rural area of Missouri, and I think we all judge. And so I worked as accident for this young lady and her dad came out. And then this area there weren't really a diverse community, and his tone was just, I took it probably the wrong way. I took it as, he really didn't feel comfortable with me being around, in our conversation. But then the next day he calls me on the phone and he says, "Trooper, I'd like to meet you back at the accident scene." Ron Johnson: And so I go back. And this gentleman had gotten up early in the morning and barbecued an entire meal to give to me. Carly Fiorina: Oh my. Ron Johnson: And so sometimes those failures and judgment, those failures and what we perceive ... so doing Ferguson, well, the book hadn't been written on how to do a lot of things in leadership role but I understood that. And my mind went back to that time. But that was a failure and judgment in my time. Carly Fiorina: Well, we all judge ... well, let's say it this way. The first thing we see about a person is their appearance. Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: And the next thing we see about a person is their circumstances. And we so often make judgments, immediate judgments, based on the appearance and the circumstance. This is who this person is. And so we overlook so much when we do that but it's human. I think a physiologist will tell us that our brains are programmed to recognize our own. And yet we have to work so hard to overcome those snap judgments. Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: That's why empathy is so important. And I think there's so much about our environment today. Certainly there's so much about our politics that is so tribal and kind of grabs people into their tribes. "I'm right, you're wrong. I'm good, you're bad." Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: And of course you saw a lot of that in Ferguson. So let's go to Ferguson now if we can. When the governor first asked you to do this, were you expecting that? What was your first reaction to that? I mean that was a weighty request. Ron Johnson: Not at all. Because of my rank, there were several officers in our department that were of a higher rank. And so I had no idea that, that was going to be his decision, or the words out of his mouth. We were in front of a crowd. And so I was shocked. Carly Fiorina: So you didn't even have any warning about this? Ron Johnson: Yeah. Carly Fiorina: You're literally in front of a crowd and he says, "You're at it. Tag you're it." Ron Johnson: Yes. Tag, you're it. Carly Fiorina: Oh boy. Wow. I hadn't realized you had no forewarning. That's amazing. And so what was the first thought that went through your mind other than I better hold it together, cause I'm in front of a big crowd here? Ron Johnson: I'm looking around the room at all these other leaders and wondering what they're thinking. This gentleman who is of a lower rank, why is he going to be in charge? And I begin to ask myself at that moment, why? Me also. But that little moment where I asked why, was the only time that I've ever asked why. I never asked the governor or anybody else, because it really didn't matter to me why he chose me, it was that he did choose me. Carly Fiorina: Yes. Well, maybe in part he chose you because leadership isn't defined by rank or position or title, as we said a couple minutes ago, it's defined by someone's behavior and character and courage. And he obviously saw those things in you. What was the worst time for you in that, and what was the best time for you? Ron Johnson: I think the worst time was when I ... I had spoken at a church in the same day, Michael Brown junior's parents were going to speak, and I spoke before. And they had asked that there'd be no law enforcement in the church when they were there. So I spoke and we were leaving the church and a gentleman from their team walked up and said, "They want to meet you." And I walked back and I looked into their eyes and I think that was the worst time. Because I have a son, I have a daughter, just seeing their pain was the worst time. Ron Johnson: I think the best time was, for me was, I had gone to a makeshift school for young kids between the age of four and eight. And I had gone and sat down and talked with them and got on the floor and they were talking, but when I left, they gave me a coloring book and a sock puppet. And so I kept that, and then that night was one of the best nights that we had. We didn't arrest anybody, we didn't take any guns from anybody. And so we had a press conference and before that, I had been covering the table up and showing the press the guns, the Molotov cocktails we had taken. But this night we hadn't taken any and didn't have anything to put on the table. Ron Johnson: And I said, "Let's put this coloring book and sock puppet on there." And I put it on there, and we uncovered it. And tears from the media and the policemen that were there. And I said, "It's time for our kids to go back to school. It's time for our neighborhoods to get back." And the next day we had no one on the street, and that's when we ended. And so that was my best night when we got back to kids going back to school and mothers and fathers being able to go to work, and having a better conversation. So I think the end of that, was my best night. Carly Fiorina: You've told a story in other settings that I'm aware of, of asking a minister right after you'd been appointed that you knew a woman- Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: If you could march alongside her and she said, "No." And then you said, "Well I can march in the back. I don't need to be beside you. I may be not getting all the details right." And then she said, "Okay, you can march." Why do you think she changed her mind? What did you say to her that caused her to change her mind? Ron Johnson: I think, initially when the governor put me in charge, I was shocked. But two hours later I began to think that he put me in charge because there was something special about me. Carly Fiorina: Yes, you were a leader. Ron Johnson: Yes. But at that moment when I talked to the pastor, I think she could look in my eyes and knew that I was humbled, and I was really humbled when she said that I couldn't march. And I told her that I had nothing else. And I think when I said that, that I needed to march for me, and I needed to march in the back. I think she realized that I was willing to march the middle of that road and stand for both sides. Carly Fiorina: And I'm sure she also realized that you weren't in it for a photo, you weren't in it to make a point for the media, you were, to the point you were in it for you, as a member of that community. Because I think there's so much that is not genuine about how some purported leaders behave sometimes and people figured that out really fast. Ron Johnson: Sure. Carly Fiorina: She obviously understood that you were genuine and authentic in your desire to be a part of that process in that community. When did you decide that you were going to do something that many people found unfathomable, unthinkable? When did you decide, "Okay, I'm going to shed the trappings of my position and my law enforcement background. I'm just going to be a man out here and join in with this community." When did you make that decision? Ron Johnson: That was immediate for me. Because I believe that to lead, you have to have an understanding of what you're leading. And people have to know that you understand and you have buy in. And so for me to walk down that street, before that we hadn't walked down the street. We had not talk with the people on the street. It was kind of like we're at war on each side of the line. And for me, I think if you're going to lead something, you have to be able to see it, you have to be able to feel it, you have to be able to understand it. Ron Johnson: And so I needed to walk down that street, and hear it, and feel it, and sense it. And so it started immediately. And I think when I walked down that street, people began to talk and I begin to just listen. And people said, "You had such a calm", but I was just listening. And I think when I began to listen, there were many other things that people were talking about that were going on in our community, and in our country. And people wanted to talk about it and wanted to be addressed. Carly Fiorina: There's so much wisdom in that. People closest to the problems actually usually know best what's going on. So then they know best what would actually help. And there's so many people who kind of float above problems instead of trusting the people who are right in the middle of them. And so you trusted the people. And sometimes when we teach teams or people who want to hone their leadership skills, I'll say to folks, "The first thing you should do is look and listen. Don't charge in, don't show people everything you got. Don't tell people the answer. Just look around and listen and learn and see what's going on." Ron Johnson: Sure. Carly Fiorina: And you obviously don't need any coaching on leadership cause you knew instinctively that's what you needed to do. Ron Johnson: Well, I think too often we expect people to follow us because of our titles. Carly Fiorina: Yup. Ron Johnson: And I knew that, in our country and in our community, there was such a divide between law enforcement in our community. People weren't going to listen to me because of my title. And so I wanted them to see me as a man. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: And see me as a father, a friend, and all those other things. Carly Fiorina: And actually they weren't going to see you as a friend because you're African American either. Your title, your blue tribe, was for them until they got to know you as it is for all of us. That took precedence at first. Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: What did it feel like to be called a traitor? That must've hurt incredibly. Ron Johnson: It was tough. And I tell people that the middle road is the hardest part of the road, and to be called a traitor from both sides- Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: And so when I talk about being alone it's from both sides, both sides wanted you to step to that side. And so it was tough. It's tough to hear that. But I think that as a leader you keep walking, you keep moving forward, and through those tough times if you keep moving forward, it's going to get better. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. We've been talking about the fact that leadership isn't about a title or a position. I also think that what leaders choose to spend their time on, defines them. So a leader like you, you were focused on changing things for the better, you were focused on actually making progress on the problem. And that's so obvious except that I think so much of our public discourse, so much of the culture that surrounds all of us, it's about win, lose, right, wrong, blame, and none of those things help solve the problem actually. When everybody gets on their side and gets in their tribe and ... it doesn't help. Carly Fiorina: And so you were trying to solve a problem, and if you're trying to solve a problem, there has to be right on both sides. Ron Johnson: It really does. And I think you hit the nail on the head. Is that you can always find right in what you do. But sometimes when you listen, you can learn. And there's always another way, and there's a balance. And so that's what I believe leadership has to be and you try to do that. But also I understand that you can't, in the midst of chaos, sometimes it's hard to give lessons. And you just have to do it as a leader because you know that's what you have to do. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: You know there's going to be criticism. But as a leader, a true leader, criticism is going to be a part of that, and you'd be willing to accept that. Carly Fiorina: That's right. Criticism is the price of leadership. It always accompanies real leaders because if you're leading and trying to find common ground and solve the problem and to use your wonderful phrase, to walk the middle of the road, somebody is going to be unhappy sometimes. Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: So you're going to get criticized. And I think, the critics are always louder than the people who understand and appreciate what you're doing. I'm sure it felt like that way to you a lot, that there were no fans out there, only critics. Ron Johnson: And you're right. And sometimes I tell people about the examples, some law enforcement who were really critical, but then there was some law enforcement who would just give you that smile, or just touched your chest. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: And so you're right, the critics are loud. Those that support you may not be as loud, but they're silent voice. Can be that driving force for you to keep walking forward. Carly Fiorina: And there are also people who don't quite know what to think at first. So they don't really, they observe, they watch, they don't know what to think at first, but I'm sure, well I know, that those people who didn't know quite what to think about you at the beginning as the hours and the days were on and they had a chance to observe and reflect, you built more and more of those silent, perhaps friends, who understood what you were trying to do. And were, I know, inspired by your example. Ron Johnson: And some people after the fact, will come up and say, "You know what? I really didn't care for you." But now that we've gotten past that particular incident, and I've reflected back or thought about it, I understand and thank you. And so sometimes as a leader you may not, people may not understand in the moment - Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: It may be years later, maybe decades later. But you still need to lead. And if you're leading because you want that reward or that pat on the back right away, you may not get that. Carly Fiorina: That's right. That's right. How do we have a better conversation in this country about where we really are? Do you think things have gotten better since Ferguson? Worse since Ferguson? How do we have a better conversation about the realities of where we are, the realities of the Ferguson community and what they faced and still face? Ron Johnson: I think we will always have things to work on in this country as long as we're diverse, but we need to continue to have that conversation. But I think we have to have honest conversations and I think through honest conversations, we find out how much we're alike. In doing Ferguson, I gave a speech and I said, "I am you." Ron Johnson: And some took that I was just talking to African Americans. I wasn't, I was talking to anybody that was listening because we're alike in so many ways. If we begin to share those conversations, we have some of the same problems and concerns. And so I talk to people all the time and I say, "We need to share that," like you shared about your child. I think you need to share that because sometimes we're too silent about that. Ron Johnson: And I think when we talk about our own personal values, our own personal wants and dreams and visions, we find out how much they are alike. And I think through that, we can get better. And I will say since Ferguson I think in our country, we're having more conversations. People have being awakened to the differences. And I think sometimes it's easy to say that, we don't care about each other, but sometimes we get in our silos and we get busy. And we're more busy in our country than we've ever been. Ron Johnson: And so now we're having conversation and people are saying, "Hey, I didn't realize", but that's because we weren't having honest conversations. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Ron Johnson: And courageous conversations. Carly Fiorina: There's great power in an honest conversation, there's no question. And one of the ways we discover our common humanity and the fact that everyone has more potential than they realize, to have an impact, to make a difference, to live a life of dignity, and purpose, and meaning, is we have to get past our superficial assessments of someone based on their appearance or their circumstances. Ron Johnson: Yeah. Carly Fiorina: I worry that in our culture today, we spend so much time on the superficial. Our culture tends to lift up the superficial. When I say our culture, I mean ... my goodness. I mean the amount of time people are spending on, "How many likes do I have?" And, "Have I curated my life perfectly?" And ... we get really hung up on the superficial. Carly Fiorina: And we sometimes I think define ourselves by our crowd, our posse, our tribe, and all of those things I think make it so difficult, or more difficult, to have an honest, open, vulnerable conversation with somebody and try and learn who they are, not what they look like or what their circumstances are. Carly Fiorina: You've obviously had a lot of powerful, honest, difficult conversations with people who maybe didn't want to talk to you in that way. How do you start a conversation like that? Are there tips you could give people? Are there lessons that you've learned about how to actually get that dynamic started so that people will have one of those conversations? Ron Johnson: Doing Ferguson, the first speech that I gave was at a church. And so I had prepared this speech and try to use the right words. So I'm up there talking and I'm looking in the crowd, and there was about 20 young men that were sitting there and they weren't listening. And some of their comments were negative. And then I realized that I wasn't being myself, that actually I wasn't being honest. I was speaking what I thought people wanted to hear. And then I put that speech aside and I just began to talk about me, and I began to talk about my son. Ron Johnson: And then these young man began to listen. The crowd in general began to listen. And by the time that I was done, those 20 young men were standing to their feet and they were clapping their hands because I was being honest, and I was sharing myself as a leader, as a man, as a person, and they could connect with that. And so I think that you have to be able to connect with the people that you're talking to, but people can read your honesty, and how sincere you are in what you're saying. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. First it was the talking points as eloquent as they may have been. And then it was actually you. What did you say about your son that you think touch them? Ron Johnson: I said that my son, I love him, but he's not perfect. There's times when my son leaves home, would leave home when he lived there, and I'd say, "Hey, pull your pants up a little higher." And I said, I wasn't a big fan of tattoos, but my son wanted a tattoo. And I said, "He has some tattoos." And these young men were sitting in this church and they had tattoos and people have been talking about the way that they dress, and about their purpose. And I said, "But that's my son. And no matter what he does, he's my son and I'm going to love him." And then after I said, "When I get home, I go upstairs and I kiss him good night." Ron Johnson: And I think for these young men, it added value to who they were. And it added value to the women that were there. I talked about my mom. I talked about the importance that women play in our families, and motherhood and raising the family structure. And I think people could relate to that. And then I said, "I am you." And I was talking about everyone there, but I also told them that they had a right to protest. They had a right to fight for change, and they could come out there and protest as long as they wanted, as long as they did it in a peaceful manner because that was their right. Because I believe that's how we've gotten change in our country. Carly Fiorina: That's right. People have ... you also have made distinctions in the past between people's right to protest and riots. And you've been very clear about the difference in those things. Ron Johnson: Yes. Carly Fiorina: And there obviously is a difference. But sometimes we get them mixed up. And I think there were times when people were mixed up about that in Ferguson as well. Ron Johnson: I think from the start as law enforcement, we were mixed up. We looked at everybody the same from those early days. And I think that's one reason the governor made a change. Because there were people out there that were writers, who were looters, who were there for self gain and destruction, but the majority of people that were there, were there voicing for change, an out cry for change. Ron Johnson: And so I think that when we began to talk about that, I think the protesters separated themselves, took initiative. They saw this as one large group, but I think when they began to trust the words of the leader and knew that he was being honest, he believed in them, he also knew that our country needed to change, and he also knew that he wore that badge with pride but he also knew he wasn't perfect and he was willing to say that. And I think for law enforcement, I wasn't saying that our community was perfect, but I was saying there was a point where we need to come together and make each other better. Carly Fiorina: When you spoke in that church about your son and your mother, and ... obviously you were revealing a lot about yourself, but people could see a human being that they could relate to. It's so interesting to me how often people hide behind the trappings of leadership and yet it never works in really tough circumstances. Cause people can tell just as those 20 young men in the front pew of the church, they could tell when you were hiding behind the title or the badge or the speech or the talking points, and they could tell when you put all that stuff down and revealed yourself as a man. And that was the point where you could connect. Why is that so hard for some people? Ron Johnson: I think too often we believe that title defines us. I think too often we work each day to get the title, but we leave so much behind when that's all that we strive for. For me, people would always ask, "What are you doing?" And I'd always say, "I'm a trooper." I would never say that I was a captain or lieutenant or a sergeant, I would just say that I'm a trooper. And I think sometimes we forget our why. My why was, I wanted to be a trooper. And that will always be my why. Being a lieutenant, a sergeant, and a captain, that's when I got on the ADC. That's not what I sat down and said I wanted to be, I wanted to be a trooper. Ron Johnson: So sometimes we forget our why, why we did something, why we wanted to become something. I think if you can always remember your why, then you will not hide behind those titles. You can always be what you started out to be. Carly Fiorina: That's such a wise thing. I have a new book out called, Find Your Way. And one of the main points of the book is that people get very fixated on a plan, a destination, a ... I want this title, I want this salary, I want this house, I want this car. We get like that. Ron Johnson: Sure. Carly Fiorina: And over and over in my own life, but as well in others, what I've seen is people who don't get hung up on the plan but have a path. I'm going to walk a path in a certain way. I'm not going to forget my why, I'm going to be a person of integrity and courage. I'm going to try and see people for who they are and not for what they look like. That walking the path frequently lead you further than getting to hung up on the plan, the title, the position. Carly Fiorina: But I also think that sometimes too often people sell their souls for that plan, for that title. I can remember being in a very low position and a woman who worked for me came up and she was agonizing over something and I said, "Don't ever sell your soul because no one can ever pay you back." And I do think when we reveal ourselves, when you revealed yourself as a man, you are also revealing your soul and the fact that you still owned it. Ron Johnson: Sure. Carly Fiorina: And people could see that. And I think it has a huge impact. I know it had a huge impact in Ferguson, when people saw your soul and that you still owned it. Ron Johnson: And I think for me, I think sometimes, we go through life and we do seek all those things that you've talked about, titles, and homes, and those kinds of things, but I think for Ferguson, it changed me also. I think just like you just said, it let me knew that I didn't sell my soul, that I was still who I needed to be, and I still understood my, why, because as I said earlier, the governor told me I was going to be put in charge and I had no idea. And so people were made to say, "What is your plan?" And I wanted to say, "I just found out 15 minutes ago that I've been put in charge." So I really had no plan. There wasn't a plan. But I began to follow [crosstalk 00:40:05]- Carly Fiorina: A path. Ron Johnson: [crosstalk] that path and just began to walk. Carly Fiorina: Well to me, looking at it from the outside in, before I knew you or knew of you, I think my reaction, "Wow. He walks into the middle of this situation and sets aside all the trappings and walks into this," it seemed unexpected. But in truth, you were doing what you knew you had to do, which was I need to understand it. I need to understand it. Carly Fiorina: Everything ... before then, they had prepared you for the moment when you realized, I have to understand this, otherwise I can't lead this. Ron Johnson: Yes. My daughter sent me a Bible verse. And she had never sent me a Bible verse, but she sent me the Bible verse about Peter walking on the water. And it just really told me that I was doing the right thing. And so, I tell people, I say, "When I began to walk, I knew I was doing the right thing when my daughter who had never sent me a verse, sent me this verse about Peter walking on the water." And she said, "Dad, just keep walking. And when you fall, he'll pick you up." Ron Johnson: And I read that in the church, and people began to hear that. And so I talked about my daughter and son, and ... because it was a part of what I needed to do for them too. Carly Fiorina: Yeah. Tell us what you're doing now, what you're focused on now? What ... you've had this incredible experience, you've gained all this wisdom. We need, the country needs you to remain engaged. Tell us what you're doing now? Ron Johnson: Well, I retired in October of 2018, and I started a company called, Lodestone Solutions Group. And so we go around and do leadership training. Go around and do motivational speaking. I also speak and train, with leadership. I put myself on stage and talk to artists about leadership, and go through the cycle of Ferguson, my other leadership roles. And so just talking about leadership. And also we go and talk about these courageous conversations that we need to have, these honest conversations. And I'm honest about the things that I still need to work on. And that this country, we always need to have that conversation. Ron Johnson: And I think what Ferguson showed us was that, we thought that we didn't need to, we thought that silence would make that conversation go away. I think that conversation will continue to strengthen who we are because this is a great country, and we have great people. And so that's what we're doing. I try to make a difference. We talk to college students, high school students, and just having those religious organizations. So that's my new journey and my new path. And so that's the path that I'm walking. Carly Fiorina: I'm so glad because every single person, every single person, who sees you and hears you, learns something important about what leadership really is by your example. And we had ... yes, we are a great country and we have loads of problems. And so we need more leaders to step up and make a positive contribution to fixing those problems, having progress on those problems. I like to say that criticism is the price of leadership, but problem solving is the purpose of leadership. Leaders step into the breach and say, "We got a problem here and we're going to, we have to find a way to make it better, and to make real progress." Ron Johnson: And I call that, the joy of leadership. Carly Fiorina: Yes. Ron Johnson: Because it is a joy. Carly Fiorina: Yes. Ron Johnson: And it is an honor. Carly Fiorina: Sometimes people will say to me, "What motivates you? Your why?" And I've come to learn that there's this look that people get. It's the same look no matter who someone is, no matter what their circumstances, no matter where in the world, no matter where we're in the country, there's this look that someone will get when they realize I can do something, I didn't think I could, we can make this better even though I thought it was hopeless. Carly Fiorina: When people sense, possibility, progress, when they connect, there's this look that people get and for me that look is just fuel. Because I know it when I see it. I'm sure you do as well. And I know that when you're talking to all these people you talk to now, that you see that look a lot. And those young men when they stood up in the church, I know they had a look in their eye which was, "Maybe we can do something we didn't think we could do here. Maybe we can actually make this better." Ron Johnson: Right. You're absolutely right. Carly Fiorina: So what gets you going? When those 20 men stood up in church, I'm sure it inspired you. It gave you hope. Not every day is as dramatic as a Ferguson. Ron Johnson: I think just getting up and getting a chance to stand in front of people and talk to people that want to listen, people that want to be there to see if they can make a difference and be a part of change, be a part of something that's brighter than yesterday was, I think it's that. I think getting up every day knowing that you have an opportunity to make your community better, make your country better, but also to be better as a person. Ron Johnson: And so for me, sometimes I speak and I say, "I've learned more from you than I've probably given." And then sometimes I speak and people have that look and then I say, "But the words that you heard today aren't my words, they're the words of the people that sometimes we all walked by, who we don't hear the voice or see their face. And I've gotten the honored and opportunity to share their words with you." Ron Johnson: So those are the things that inspire me, that I have been honored and blessed to be able to be on a platform and talk and create change, and be the voice of someone who believes that they don't have purpose, but they truly do. Carly Fiorina: Well, the highest calling of a leader is to unlock potential in others, and it's obvious that's what you do every single day, including when you speak for someone who perhaps didn't feel they had a voice or a purpose. Carly Fiorina: Some people call you, Captain Ron. Is it okay if I call you that? Ron Johnson: It is. Carly Fiorina: It has been a joy to have this conversation. There is huge power in honest conversation and you demonstrate that every day. And we can't ever get better as communities, or people, or a country, unless we start with an honest conversation. Carly Fiorina: So as the last question, what I'd love to ask you is, once the honest conversation has happened and people have said in an honest but a caring way, what needs to be said, what has to change? What are the festering problems and resentments and things that we keep sweeping under the rug? After that first honest conversation happens, what in your experience then happens to cause people to move forward in a positive way, as opposed to just drift away, and fall back to where things once were? Ron Johnson: I think that when that conversations happens, it's not important to give feedback, it's important to listen, and take that back to your own personal space. And I always tell people, if we can all do something a little bit different than we've done before, that diverse become so great. And so even for me, I listen and I step back for a minute, and each day I try to do something a little bit different, that's going to make me better. Ron Johnson: And once I make me better, then I think I make those surroundings that's around me better. And so have those conversations reflect back and not be so quick to give a response. I think we must all walkway and listen to what the other say, without responding to it. Because when we respond to it immediately, sometimes we soak it all in. Carly Fiorina: Wow. That's a lot of good advice for sure. Cause boy, we talked about our culture before. People are sort of trained, I got to respond immediately, I got to come back with something, I have to say something. I can't let that Tweet wait five seconds, or the email, or the conversation, whatever it is. Just the pause to reflect and take it in. Ron Johnson: I think that word is, pause. I think sometimes even in our busy day when we pause, we take more in, and we see more, our vision is greater. I talk to people about, we talk about that sometimes, the young people in our nation, their dreams have been taken away. And I say, "No, we all dream, I dream. We've taken away the vision." And so we have to make sure that, that vision is there, that vision is given back. So just pause for a minute, and look and then we can see more. Carly Fiorina: What would you like people to know about Ferguson now? Ron Johnson: Ferguson, there were a lot of positive things that were going on in Ferguson before the incident that happened. There are a lot of people in Ferguson now that are trying to do a lot of positive things than those that surround Ferguson. But Ferguson is a part of something that our country needs to get better at. And when people can come together and people can have those courageous conversations, how much better we can be. Carly Fiorina: And you know, what you've said today is so profound because among many profound things, what you said today was things don't get better, circumstances don't get better, big issues don't get better, unless each of us start with our own humanity and decide how we can get better. Ron Johnson: Exactly. Carly Fiorina: Change starts on the ground, I think. Ron Johnson: Yeah. Carly Fiorina: The people who understand what's broken best need the support to help fix it. But you've also said that real change starts with each of us, and if we can't pause and hear it and see it differently, then we can't expect anyone else to either. Ron Johnson: Exactly. Carly Fiorina: Wise words. Ron Johnson: Well, thank you. Carly Fiorina: Captain Ron, thank you so much. I have learned a lot from this conversation, I will reflect on it for quite some time. Thank you for giving us so much time. Ron Johnson: Well, thank you for the opportunity. I was truly honored to be here today. Carly Fiorina: That's all for now. But you can always check out more episodes online at, carlyfiorina.com, or on iTunes. And please subscribe so you can get all of the episodes. You can be the first to get updates and exclusive offers by texting, By Example to 345345. Carly Fiorina: You can also send us feedback on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at Carly Fiorina, or by email at, firstname.lastname@example.org. Carly Fiorina: Until next time, I'm Carly Fiorina, and this is By Example.