On August 28, 1963 MLK delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech to an estimated 250,000 civil rights marchers at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. I imagine that if he were alive today, he would want each of us to look in the mirror and ask ourselves “What is my dream for our world?” I imagine he would ask us to dream with our teams to imagine workplaces and a world that is more equal, just, free and in service to all of life. Below are ten quotes from MLK, each with a reflection question, to help you bring greater presence and connection with yourself and your team and to elevate our collective leadership.
MLK reminded us “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve”. In a world that is full of disruption, there are so many areas where there is an opportunity to serve. As we enter the third year of the pandemic, most of us have had the opportunity to pause and discover what really matters to us. With The Great Resignation, many have left jobs to do work that is more fulfilling or offers more freedom to pursue what’s important.
Our collective challenges of the pandemic, geopolitical divides, climate change, digital disruption, and global and racial inequality is urgently calling forth all leaders to evolve ourselves. Our world needs leaders who bring people together to create a more just, connected, and healthy world for future generations.
Here are the ten quotes and team reflection questions:
“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” So many of our teammates are exhausted from the personal and work challenges of the pandemic. Today, choose to focus on hope for a better future. What is a (small or big) dream you have? Remember a dream is simply something that calls you forth. You don’t need to have all the steps to accomplish it.
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” Transformational leaders are motivated by creating a positive change in the lives of others. Who are the others you are most inspired to serve?
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Looking around you where do you want to lend your voice toward a change for the better?
“If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” These prophetic words by MLK point us to discover our own deeper sense of purpose. Particularly in times of disruption, a sense of purpose is a North Star guiding us amidst uncharted lands toward being an active participant in creating a better future. Purpose comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be an in-the-moment inspiration that feels purposeful. It can be a life-long endeavor and everything in-between. Leading organizations like Unilever are helping leaders discover and activate personal purpose in the workplace (see the podcast link below). In working with my executive coaching clients, we look for the intersection of three questions: what energizes me (or is meaningful), what strengths do I love to exercise, who are stakeholders I am inspired to serve. In my book Wired for Disruption, I call this the Purpose Accelerator as it accelerates our ability to be agile in change.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” As we stand with renewed inspiration in the social justice movement what is a (small or big) action toward more inclusion that inspires you?
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” This is such a powerful skill for the world of stakeholder capitalism that we operate in today. CEO’s are navigating complexity like never before. How do we make decisions in an environment where the needs of employees, customers, shareholders, and now even the planet can be conflicting in the short-term? Molding consensus requires us to listen deeply from a place of empathy, to grow connection, understanding, love and a common purpose through our listening. As you connect with your own purpose and that of others on your team, what common purpose is inspired?
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” In a world today that is torn apart by polarized views, we must dig deeper to find the common humanity and aspirations each of us holds. In my workshops with leadership teams, I often ask each member to share a story of challenge and resilience to help each member listen with empathy and share with vulnerability. What is a story about a challenge in your growing up years that has shaped you that you feel inspired to share with your team?
“There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” In the midst of a world that his rapidly changing, failure and disappointment are inevitable companions to any worthy effort. In this quote MLK invites us to expect disappointment, and despite this, to prevail and persevere in our efforts. What is something that has been a disappointment to you? What did you love within it that will enable you to persevere?
“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” The pandemic and the social justice movements have highlighted a deep need for workplaces to grow and promote leaders of character. To grow people who have strong values, I recommend “To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice and Purpose” by Ron Carucci to help you reflect on this point.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” Speaking truth to power in a way that is non-judgmental is at the core of bringing about change. What is a truth that is important for you to speak? How can you deliver this truth with love?
MLK’s final reminder to us all is that we need to redefine leadership. “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” It is not our position in the hierarchy that is of importance, but the painstaking effort to do well what uplifts others, that matters. Transformational leaders are found at every level in an organization. They are the people that find meaning and purpose and a higher calling in their daily endeavors.
My dream for a better world is leaders who are inspired, authentic, moving purposefully toward missions that matter to create a better world for all. To discover your dream for a better world and step into the transformational leader within you, check out my course on Transformational Leadership on LinkedIn Learning.
How Unilever is Activating Personal Purpose at Work:
A version of this post first appeared in my Forbes leadership blog.