It feels like the ‘Vision’ chapter of every management book sooner or later references Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial back in 1963. Yes, it belongs in the canon of famous American addresses. However, our focus upon his words that August afternoon misses something very important….before he could provide a vision of the future, MLK spent a decade preparing the ground by educating America about the problem of the present.
Often overlooked is that the Black community in the 1950s was reaping the benefits of the post-WWII economic boom. Maybe not in the same measure as the majority, but for the average African American their lives were considerably materially better than the 1940s and substantially better than the depression years of the 1930s. It is in this environment that Martin Luther King stood up to say that despite the monetary gains, life was deplorable without civil liberties.
Everybody rightfully lauds the I Have a Dream speech, but more importantly to King’s work were the hundreds of speeches he gave in the decade preceding the big one, where before crowds large and small MLK explained the problem with the present reality. In a time where people were feeling more materially satiated, he had to drive them out of their comfort zone until they accepted that their present condition was unacceptable.
If you’re a leader, you can’t move people to a new tomorrow if they believe today is OK. You can’t get them to ‘there’ unless they agree that continuing to stay ‘here’ is not acceptable. We live in a time of tremendous transformation, but the natural human temptation is to say, ‘Oh it’s not that bad’. It’s this mindset which strengthens the Status Quo. Your job is to break that mentality so that they understand that The Status Quo Is Not An Option.
So even more important that sharing a ‘Dream’, Martin Luther King helped people understand that ‘Today is Not OK’.