Last week I was asked to give a talk on leadership inside Sapient. This challenge was given to me by the head of our People Strategy team (we don’t like the words: human resources). It was a wonderful assignment for which I had two months to prepare and think through what I would say. I devised a new framework, focused on 7 elements of leadership, to provide some structure. The topic of leadership is so vast that in many ways, you can talk about anything and connect it subjectively, so these 7 elements helped to guide my thought process.
My brief lasted almost 3 hours and featured many supporting video clips. The later half of the presentation was focused on Vision- and the category I define as “Interpretive Skills.” The ability to frame a compelling vision of the future and then move others to join in that vision is at the heart of what leaders do. It is subtle, hard, and very rewarding to develop this skill. Some have it intuitively, others have to work to focus on a vision. Rest assured that those who don’t envision a future can and will be subsumed another’s vision. It happens every day to millions of people.
Steven Covey has an amazing exercise in his world famous 7 Habits book that continues to have a huge impact on me. Covey says that successful people do everything by, “beginning with the end in mind.” In order to do so, he has you envision your funeral and then write your own obituary. It is a humbling and very motivating exercise.
Someone who did not need a Steven Covey to explain successful habits was Dr. Martin Luther King. This week and month really belong to him. To call him a change agent is an understatement. His ability to forge a vision of the future drove his behavior and changed the history of our country and the world. King actually envisioned exactly what Covey discusses in terms of his funeral and obituary during a speech he gave in1968. I have this speech on CD and every time I hear it, a new part pops out to me. Aspiring change agents should consider writing your own obituary and ask if it is filled with the same bold vision that Dr. King puts forth here. Clear language, and his passion surrounds every stanza. Here are excerpts from a sermon he delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968, when Dr King was just 39 years of age. The comments in parenthesis are crowd reactions.
“Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life’s final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it.And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don’t think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, “What is it that I would want said?” And I leave the word to you this morning.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”