It’s a new year and we are approaching the celebration of the life, work and message of Martin Luther King, Jr. What better time to reflect on the keys to building a life of purpose that he shared as one of his final speeches.
In October of 1967, 6 months before his death by assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. Even after all of his accomplishments and his renown, Martin still took the time to encourage and challenge young people. As a man of vision and purpose, he exemplified investing in others, especially those who needed a word to inspire them to continue their journey. For this speech he spoke on the idea that like any well constructed building our lives should be built upon a solid blueprint.
Dr. King asked the students, “What is your life’s blueprint?”
Here are six keys to recognizing purpose and developing in your personal growth from Martin Luther King Junior's speech on life's blueprint:
1. Have a blueprint (clarity)
“Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.” - MLK
Even though this message was shared with junior high students, the wisdom is no less applicable to any age. Those adolescent years are critical in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Our early years lay the foundation for how we will see the world and our role in it. Too many haven’t made solid foundations on a sound blueprint at these transitional stages in their lives and so they are wandering through life without a clear vision. Leadership starts with leading yourself. Leading yourself starts with mapping out a plan, a blueprint for where you want your life to go, how you plan to get there and what steps you will take to move in that direction today.
Our calling is to be people of excellence. The beauty of a blueprint is that it is not the finished product but the plan we will follow in order to build our lives upward. As we move forward in our mission we refer to our blueprint to inspire us to action. When we get lost along the way we can recall our blueprint to remind us of our vision. As obstacles arise we understand that the core principles remain the same but we adapt to new information throughout the process. Martin challenged the strudents, “Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.”
2. Understand your value (accountability)
“Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness.” - MLK
When children are raised at a disadvantage whether that be economically, socially, structurally, spiritually, emotionally, physically or a combination of all of these factors they have more obstacles to overcome. Too often our current situation influences our perspective of who we are as people or what we are capable of. The path to our purpose does not ignore our circumstances, but Martin Luther King, Jr. and those voices of strength call upon people of vision to carry forward. He says to the students, ” I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil. I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live in — stay in school.”
Purpose requires courage to see past our immediate situation to work through and build for our long term goals. Vision provides energy in the struggle when the winds have died down and the power is out. Remembering that we have a blueprint calls us back to the clarity of our mission. Understanding our worth as people and our role in the bigger picture reminds us to carry on the good work we have before us regardless of the opposition facing us. Valuing our worth helps us to embrace and value the worth of others. Our great documents call for liberty and justice for all, and by pursuing that high goal in an equitable manner we find we enrich our own lives as well.
3. Determination for the pursuit of excellence (consistency)
“Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor.” – MLK
The cult of success causes us to idolize the achievers who are most apparent in movies, business and who have attained affluence. If the vision of your blueprint is to build a purposeful and happy existence than the result of our life’s work is no guaranteed to bring those physical rewards. Dr. King admonished the students, “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”
Life is progressive. As we learn and industry and build skills we develop ourselves into those who stand out for mastery in their current duties. Being teachable, consistently learning, growing in our abilities and challenging ourselves to take risks all lead towards advancement. Trust is the most valuable commodity for advancing in life and business, those who can establish and leverage trust can go far. Success should not be exclusive. There is plenty to go around for all. Achieving our goals should include building opportunity and bringing others along, as fellow citizens, mentors and co-laborers in the journey.
4. Embrace your opportunities (courage)
"And I say to you, my young friends, that doors are opening to each of you, doors of opportunity to each of you that were not open to your mothers and your fathers and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open." - MLK
Life is about opportunity not convenience. When the doors are opening they don't always swing wide and they don't always remain open forever. Understanding our value enables us to take some risks in moving from where we are to where we desire to be. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to rise to the challenge even when we are scared.
The other side of success is that living a blessed life is not just found in the attaining of affluence or accumulation of material possessions. Many have trophy rooms of their exploits with no one to share them with because their sacrifices on the altar of prosperity included the persons who would have helped and celebrated with them. Capitalism creates endless opportunities but the corrosion of personal values through devious practices that devalue others makes for hollow victories. Rise to your opportunities through the assistance of those who have invested in you and continue that cycle of mentorship by bringing others along with you. Do justly.
5. Be the best of whatever you are
“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” – MLK
Worrying about what we are not will rob us from the opportunities we have in the present. Complaining about what we have not become will not help us to reach for who we are and who we can be. If you fail to build excellence in where you are currently you will struggle to build excellence in the future. Excellence is a habit and a muscle that must be exercised. Excellence starts with clarity through outlining a blueprint. Preparing to succeed does not guarantee success. But failing to prepare does prepare for failure.
It's a new year. There is an opportunity to create a fresh start and to daily take claim upon the vision and mission that you have set out for your life. Whether we are proud of our current position or not, we can still operate with excellence and move towards our goals. Whether our responsibilities are glamorous or plebeian, there is still beauty, love and justice that we can infuse into this orb while we still walk upon it.
6. The bigger picture
"And finally, in your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice" - MLK
In everything that we do we first have a responsibility to do it with excellence, to do all to the best of our ability. As part of the broader picture, everything that we do should carry with it the commitment to enhancing beauty, spreading love and establishing justice for all. Conversely, our work should not rob the world of beauty. Our efforts should not be without or exclude love. The building of our dreams should not forsake the justice of others but rather build such for all.
Dr. King nears the closing of his speech with this admonition, "Let us keep going toward the goal of self-hood, to the realization of the dream of brotherhood and toward the realization of the dream of understanding good will." In turmoil there is talk about what God would or would not do and what those who claim him should act like. The prophet Micah makes it rather plain and simple when he declares, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (6.8)" Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly are not the standards for political or spiritual leaders alone, those are principles that are for all persons in their daily dealings with others.
Your mission big or small is important. Clarify your blueprint, value yourself, seek excellence and be the best of whatever you are.
How many times do you hear, “Someone needs to hold so-and-so accountable for their actions”? And the peanut gallery nods their head vehemently in agreement, “That’s right, it’s about time that so-and-so was held accountable for such-and-such.” People in a position of leadership (PIAPOL) are often fond of the peanut gallery, those that cheer them on in the execution of the leadership duties. Funny enough, the history of the peanut gallery comes from days past and referred to the cheapest tickets where the rowdiest vaudeville consumers heckled the performers. Needless to say, those in a position of leadership who only seek “yes men” to affirm their ever action seek the praise of those who are not fueled by vision or invested in progress.
Magnified Plaid, or MxPx as they have come to be known, is a indie punk rock band from Bremerton, Washington and they have a fitting song entitled Responsibility, the chorus of which belts out,
Responsibility? What's that?
Responsibility? Not quite yet.
Responsibility? What's that?
I don't want to think about it; we'd be better off without it.
If you like rock music with a splash of humor then you may find some enjoyment is viewing the video for MxPx Responsibility - see at end of article. It may also help serve as a sensory cue to invest in your accountability measures for your team, a rally cry of sorts.
For many organizations, the attitude is the same with regards to a practical or effective approach to accountability. Leaders talk about accountability as though the only measure of such is a good tongue lashing, preferably in front of as large a group of people as possible. So, let’s see if we can answer the what, when and how of establishing accountability.
Accountability? What’s that?
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes,” says speaker and author of Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud. There is a progression in accountability, it does not appear out of thin air or materialize on its own. Accountability for a person and an organization comes from consistency in executing clearly established values. Effective accountability traces itself back to clarity in vision, communication of values and consistent effort from all levels within the team to live out those principles. As we have discussed many times, there are causes and there are effects or there are symptoms and there are sources, leaders are concerned with finding sources so that they can eliminate symptoms.
Accountability is the natural consequence of consistency rooted in clarity and conversely a lack of accountability is the natural consequence of inconsistency that stems from a void in institutional clarity. For an organization to build accountability they must clarify their vision and consistently communicate, train and discipline around their values. If an organization says they value A and B and yet they hire candidates that value C or have leaders who believe in D then that organization cannot expect A and B to be communicated clearly, executed consistently or accountability measures to be effective. As Dr. Cloud notes above, there is a beauty to developing a culture because one of the fruits of a clear culture is that those invested in the vision will enhance accountability by setting a standard and holding people to it.
Accountability? Not quite yet.
Consistency means doing what you have said regardless of the obstacles or the opposition. How many positive efforts die before they ever grow legs, before they are ever put in motion and how many more die the minute there is opposition. Those in a position of leadership are tasked with the responsibility to identify and implement programs, systems and changes that will grow their team. The best ideas don’t have to be complex or innovative to move a vision forward but they will have to be combined with commitment and endurance. Changes, especially those that net long term results, require energy and resources, they will cost money, time and will have to adapt to the path that unfolds but they should not die because someone decides they aren’t comfortable with change or don’t want to put the work in to see something through.
The peanut gallery cheers as long as they are not challenged, they heckle like petulant children when they don’t like something but they are not of the character to get in the trenches and move a team forward so their opinions should not be given value by those who are leading an organization from vision to action. When those in a position of leadership allow obstacles to deter them or fold under the pressure of internal opposition to change they send a clear message that their resolve isn’t set to defend their values. “A person who refuses to say ‘the buck stops here’ really isn’t a leader at all,” notes Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “Being a leader requires being confident enough in your own decisions and those of your team to own them when they fail.” Leaders must be open to input where those engaged in the mission are sharing insights of repute but complaining by those who want to defend the status quo should be quelled.
A quick test to determine whether someone is complaining or providing constructive criticism is to simply ask, “Before you finish your statement – 1) if you are bringing me a problem are you also bringing me a solution and 2) if you believe you have a solution are you willing to put your skin in the game to see it through?” If the answer to either of these questions is no then it is a complaint and the person in a position of leadership should move on, quickly. No further discussion. (More on accountability – Conflict)
Accountability? What’s that?
Many organizations have vision and value statements but how many actually follow those words from top to bottom and from bottom to top? When an organization is clear on their vision and those in a position of leadership are consistent in their values and together they recruit, hire, train, discipline and build around those core items then there is a foundation for accountability (Video on discipline). Discipline is a key component of accountability. Yet, discipline is not just about yelling at people who aren’t doing their job or sending people home, or like one organization we worked with having a naughty board posted prominently in their employee center so that the record of team members failures could be observed by all, rather accountability flows from consistency and clarity.
Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, shares, “The best kind of accountability on a team is peer-to-peer. Peer pressure is more efficient and effective than going to the leader, anonymously complaining, and having them stop what they are doing to intervene.” The kind of accountability that Cloud and Lencioni talk about is of the type that we hear about in championship sports teams where captains from within the team, as well as the team as a whole, buy into the vision and hold each other accountable. When an organization brings people in that enhance the culture, people of value are inspired. When a person in a position of leadership stands up to opposition and silences complainers, people of value are invigorated. When the team is clear about the vision and consistently executes the values the key ingredients are in the soil for a culture of accountability to flourish (More on culture).
I don’t want to think about it. We’d be better of without it.
It’s so much easier to maintain the status quo. Yet, with the rate of change and the demands in the market, status quo is the most rapid path to total failure. Change is painful but death is permanent. Doing the hard thing of turning something around requires commitment to work through obstacle after obstacle and to consistently progress through opposition after opposition only to wake up and do it again. No more so-and-so needs to do such-and-such. Clarity. Consistency. Accountability.
Leadership is assumed, appointed or affirmed, which is the most effective?
If you are in the tens of people who have read more than one of these IZ Venture's articles, you will have noticed that we refer to leaders as “people in a position of leadership” or PIAPOL. We all have seen and been around leaders who rest upon their appointed position as a means to exert their authority as well as those who have assumed their position as a means to elevate their responsibility. Let’s take a stroll through the leadership landscape and sort out a few myths and dysfunctions with regards to this catch word - leadership.
Whether you think you are or you think you aren’t [a leader], you are right.
Being in a position of leadership does not mean that I am a leader, the working definition of a leader comes in the form of activity – if you look behind you and people are following, then you are a leader. Leadership can happen at any level and the proper means to promotion in positions of leadership come as an organization recognizes values in action on the part of an individual and merely formalizes their role as a positive influencer. Leadership isn’t about title or role, you and I can lead (or influence) from anywhere. As noted by author and speaker John C. Maxwell in his recent book The 360 Degree Leader, “Leadership is more disposition than position—influence others from wherever you are.” As such, effective leadership starts with leading yourself by clarifying your values, living them out consistently and establishing accountability for yourself through trusted peers.
The value of influence is immeasurable and influence can be generated at any level.
Everyone has some level of influence, either I am actively working to expand my influence or I am devaluing it by either keeping it quiet or using it poorly. What types of “leaders” are the most annoying, for me two come to mind,
1) the self-appointed leader (SAL) who constantly repeats statements or performs actions they consumed without any context, depth or usefulness and,
2) the appointed leader (AL) who is the reason we have terms like “the Peter principle” where they have been promoted beyond the point of their effectiveness but they are clueless to their shortcomings.
The SAL can quote leader after leader, often really good choices, but they are missing the life experiences and the values that shaped the outlook of those they are quoting (more). The AL is one who has slipped through the organizational cracks because someone needed to be promoted, they are the status quo of leadership and they are a reflection of the reasons that so many companies are just getting by.
Leadership grows as life gains experience through learning via success and [mostly] failures.
Perspective is one area that we have the most control over and yet under-utilize. We cannot control what happens around us but we can control how we respond to it and what we learn from it. “The difference between a warrior and an ordinary man,” according to the author of The E-Myth, Michael E. Gerber, “Is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man sees everything as either a blessing or a curse.” As noted in the previous paragraph, leadership is neither assumed nor appointed, leadership is an action that is affirmed by those who are following. Those that assume leadership place themselves in a role that is irrelevant to those around them, they talk leadership but are guiding no one (more). Those that are appointed to leadership may have the benefit of organizational authority but in order to affect any real change they will need to earn the respect of those in their charge.
In leadership, affirmation is much more powerful than assumption or appointment.
Going back to where we started this conversation, another key myth or dysfunction with regards to leadership is that we discount or devalue the everyday leaders who make a difference without having a position or an ulterior motive. The power of everyday leadership, of simply doing good and leading by example, is missed by those screaming for attention to assume a role or those fighting for authority to maintain a position. Leadership creates clarity around vision and values, builds consistency in execution and develops a culture of accountability (Accountability? What's that?).
If you have 6 minutes, take a listen to this TED Talk from Drew Dudley on the impact of Everyday Leadership.
Going to do something a little different. The topic is accountability and we will present this topic in verses that relate to the chorus which will be provided by Magnified Plaid, or MxPx as they have come to be known. MxPx is a three piece indie punk rock band from Bremerton, Washington fronted by Mike Herrera and they have a fitting song entitled Responsibility, the chorus of which belts out,
Responsibility? What's that?
Responsibility? Not quite yet.
Responsibility? What's that?
I don't want to think about it; we'd be better off without it.
Think of these sequence of articles as the verses and the song (video below) as the chorus as well as the rally cry was we discuss accountability. You may find the song catchy and inspiring, something that creates a soundtrack of momentum for you and your team. In preparation for the revised chorus of content we are about to unleash upon your reading eyes, mentally swap out "responsibility" for "accountability".
Responsibility? What's that?
The song continues, "I don't want to think about it, we'd be better off without it." For many organizations, the attitude is the same with regards to a practical or effective approach to accountability. People in a position of leadership (PIAPOL) often talk about accountability as though the only measure of such is a good tongue lashing, preferably in front of as large a group of people as possible. So, let’s see if we can answer the what, when and how of establishing accountability.
Accountability? What’s that?
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes,” says speaker and author of Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud. There is a progression in accountability, it does not appear out of thin air or materialize on its own. Accountability for a person and an organization comes from consistency in executing clearly established values.
Effective accountability traces itself back to clarity in vision, communication of values and consistent effort from all levels within the team to live out those principles. As we have discussed many times, there are causes and there are effects or there are symptoms and there are sources, leaders are concerned with finding sources so that they can eliminate symptoms (more here).
Accountability is the natural consequence of consistency rooted in clarity and conversely a lack of accountability is the natural consequence of inconsistency that stems from a void in institutional clarity. For an organization to build accountability they must clarify their vision and consistently communicate, train and discipline around their values.
If an organization says they value A and B and yet they hire candidates that value C or have leaders who believe in D then that organization cannot expect A and B to be communicated clearly, executed consistently or accountability measures to be effective.
As Dr. Cloud notes above, there is a beauty to developing a culture because one of the fruits of a clear culture is that those invested in the vision will enhance accountability by setting a standard and holding people to it.
Accountability? What's that? Accountability is the progression or fruits of an organization that has defined it's vision and consistently executes it's values. Clarity leads to consistency which lays the foundation for accountability.
Stay tuned for verse/segment 2...
Jon Isaacson / IZ Ventures - More than coaching and consulting, we help you Connect, Collaborate & Conquer. #MTWSL
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