What do these tremendous leaders have in common? Almost nothing – certainly not skills, not background, not goals, certainly not the problems they faced. Not wealth, ideology, political connections, education, race, ethnicity, nor religion.
Was there something? Yes, each was an amazingly successful leader; they took followers to places they could not or would not have gone without them. But was there a key to their success that we could all learn, something each person trying to lead needs to know?
Yes! They each had a clear vision of the future. They could talk about every aspect of that future so clearly, so dynamically, that listeners became followers. They wanted to go there with them. The desire to be part of that inspiring future overcame the risks and dangers of the journey.
No one can ever forget Martin Luther King’s description of that vision (excerpts):
"In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force."
I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
And perhaps closest to our hearts, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
His vision did not tell people exactly what to do today or tomorrow to make that vision come to pass. He created clear and compelling images so that people could see his vision. He told them what it would be like to arrive – and each listener had to figure out how he or she would join in the vision. He provided a path to walk (the high plane of dignity and discipline,) and some things to avoid (the cup of bitterness and hatred.) He enticed us with the beauty and promise of the desired future – framed many different ways so that all sorts of people could grasp and hold it - - - and most importantly, make it their own vision.
Time magazine recognized extraordinary leaders. Golda Meir’s vision of the future that included an independent nation of Israel; Churchill’s vision of a future where free nations rid the earth of the maniacal fanaticism of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan; we cannot forget the many years that Gandhi spent forging and spreading his vision of a peaceful self-ruled nation of India. Each vision was much larger than the person.
What this means now to your business.
The Gallup organization research tells us that most workers are not engaged in the workplace today in the USA. Expectations for leadership are not being met.
If you want to raise the level of your leadership, you’ve got to figure out the vision that will compel people to join you and work their hearts out for that future. You need to understand how to build and sustain trust, how to provide compassion and stability, and how to feed the need for hope.