Over the course of my career, I have had the chance and honor to lead a wide variety of teams and organizations. As you can see in various essays on this blog, I deeply believe that “Leadership” and “Management” are radically different ideas; the simple truth being that one “leads” people and “manages” projects. You can see more on this if you dive into the blog archive on the left of the homepage and look up essays on “Leadership.”
In a wide number of leadership settings and moments, I have looked to historic writings, speeches, and documents as personal points of inspiration and ones that I have shared broadly with my teams. While I have covered writers and documents that literally span millennium, (from Cicero/Plutarch to Walt Whitman and Aung San Suu Kyi) there has been no single inspirational figure (or specific reference) that I continue to reflect on and share broadly with others than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech from December 1964.
Regardless of the specific team, the business / life moment at hand, or the pressing challenges of current events, I keep finding my way back to this speech and specifically to the 5th paragraph. Just a week ago, I shared this speech with the young leaders of a Tech startup that I am advising as part of a strategy retreat that I lead.
Quite literally I was drawn back to the speech this week by the shootings at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston S.C. Clearly I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the oppressive burden and insanity of hatred, racism, and violence that pervades our country and communities today. In this moment of a pervading sense of hopelessness, once again I turn to the inspiration of Dr. King. It is truly amazing and certainly uplifting to “re-read” this speech, written amidst the violence and madness of the 60’s in America. If he can “call out” that he has “an audacious faith in the future of mankind” and that he refuses “to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.”
While we are surrounded by a wide and growing set of dramatic, hate and violence filled examples of our “isness, we all need to find a moment and reconnect to Dr. Kings’ admonition to not lose focus or hope on humanity’s “eternal “oughtness.”” We all have real work to do in our communities for our county to be safer, more just and less filled with racism and hatred. Let Dr. King’s words strengthen and inspire us for the hard work ahead; take a moment and reread the entire speech, and please take the next few moments and reflect on the 5th paragraph below:
“I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, December 1964.