I have often thought about Martin Luther King, Jr’s words (“I have a dream …”) in the context of game-changing leadership. Reverend King painted a vivid picture of what his new world looked like. A world where people would be equal. A nation where everyone would be free to speak their minds, be happy, and able to live feeling safe and at peace.
In his historic speech, he managed to ‘push the buttons’ of not only African Americans, but all Americans. It no longer became an issue of blacks and whites, nor an issue of division – it was about unity as a nation undivided. And by appealing to this common shared value of what it means to be an American.
Right there, right then, he had transformed his dream into a universal vision. You could say that Martin Luther King, Jr, through this one single speech, ignited the fire that led to immense change for the better. This is what impactful leaders have in common. They begin with a compelling vision – a vision that moves the heart and mind to action. Then they take action … and they change the world.
What does it take to bring a compelling vision to life, to take it from a passing thought, from a bold dream to reality? Is there a magic step-by-step formula to actually make it happen? The power to envision and ignite the passion and the magic of the people you lead – at the core, this is the stuff that exceptional leadership is made of.
Let’s go back to Reverend King’s vision and take a closer look. It was simple, yet bold. It was provocative and, yes, even scary. And it had one crucial piece that is absolutely key for impact. He addressed the ‘why,’ the greater purpose. Some would say that vision, mission and values are separate animals and the lines between each shouldn’t be blurred. Let’s agree that the vision is an aspirational view of the future, the mission explains why the organization exists and the values talk about what the organization stands for. All of this serves to guide the strategy to achieve the goals of the organization. So, when you boldly put your stake in the ground, and commit to a vision – whether it’s been conceived by you or co-created from the bottom up – it inevitably leads to the ‘why.’ It doesn't matter if you're building sky scrapers or installing sash windows - the concept is the same. You simply can’t separate the ‘what’ from the ‘why.’ They are intertwined. And when you weave them together, the potential to create an unstoppable movement is immense.
Due to the nature of my role, I meet daily with leaders from all walks of life. From the top leaders (CEOs, COOs, Heads of Sales, CHROs) to the front-line first-time leaders and new managers, there is a common question that comes out in our discussions: “How can I lead my team to achieve an ambitious goal, to get them on board and achieve new heights along the way?” The simple answer is clear. It begins with the captain of the ship.
I’ve sat with many CEOs over the years to discuss their strategy to take their organization to the next stage. Most leaders are proud to share their grand vision, and they should be. For this is at the core of what effective leaders do – craft a vision.