In every direction, it seems we need, more than ever, to learn and listen to the wisdom of great leaders with enduring influence. Dr. Martin Luther King is one that always comes to my mind. He called us to a new greatness. He influenced me. Let me start with a story...
As I was finishing my book, Putting Our Differences to Work, I heard someone mention that there was one book everyone should have in their library. It is entitled, A Testament of HOPE: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. (edited by James M. Washington, HarperOne 1990). I found it!
When the book arrived, I opened it at random to a timely topic: FACING THE CHALLENGE OF A NEW AGE, an address he gave at the First Annual Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change, which was held in Montgomery, Alabama in December 1956. I wanted to share it with you making just one minor modification by changing the century. It is profound how much it is a calling, whispering to us from another time --- calling us to be part of a new generation of leadership that masters putting our differences to work through our thinking, actions, and behavior when no one is watching. Unfortunately, 15 years into this new century, we have also become almost accepting of VIOLENCE being a mainstay in our lives. This seems tragic, but it makes Dr. King's call even more urgent:
FACING THE CHALLENGE OF A NEW AGE
"Those of us who live in the twenty-first century are privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. It is an age in which a new social order is being born. We stand today between two worlds---the dying old and the emerging new.
...another thing that we must do in speeding up the coming of the new age is to develop intelligent, courageous and dedicated leadership. This is one of the pressing needs of the hour. In this period of transition and growing social change, there is a dire need for leaders who calm and yet positive leaders who avoid the extremes of "hot-headedness"... The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgement and sound integrity---leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice; leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity; leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause."
Then Dr. King goes on to paraphrase Holland, which was Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881), a poet and novelist, this way:
God give us leaders!
A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and a will;
Leader who have honor; leaders who will not lie;
Leadersho who can stand before a demagogue
and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall leaders, sun crowned, who live above the fog
in public duty and private thinking.
As I wrote in Putting Our Difference to Work, all we that we already know about leadership is valuable. However, it is clear, we need to re-evaluate --- to strengthen our portfolio of skills to live up to the call of this new age, I introduced five distinctive qualities of leadership. They fundamentally change the rules in how we think and act. They reframe old notions that no longer work to our advantage in our organizations or wherever we find ourselves having an opportunity to have a positive influence on others. These qualities are needed at all levels of leadership, including individual contributors and aspiring leaders who may not see themselves as leaders. Our distributed workplaces and communities mean that we all step in and out of leadership roles that require new skills to understand, interact, and relate with others different than we are.
My Five Distinctive Qualities of Leadership SELF-ASSESSMENT (PDF) includes a summary of these qualities that I share in my book. (Click on the link to download PDF).
What other ideas do you have to help us all improve our human qualities of LEADERSHIP at all levels?