As I sat down to write this morning’s screed with Dr. King’s birthday on my mind, I realized that it’s been 50 years since that horrible year of 1968. I was 13 at the time and if you’re younger than about 55 today you probably have no memories of the almost non-stop bad news. It’s hard to believe but things seemed even more screwed up and polarized that they do today. The day Dr. King was shot is one of my indelible memories and the killing of Bobby Kennedy two months later snuffed out a small glimmer of hope that Dr. King’s legacy might come to fruition soon. It took another 40 years for that although there are valid arguments that we as a country are still waiting in many ways.
With that, what follows is my post on celebrating Dr, King and his message from a few years ago. It’s about listening, something many of us don’t do often enough. Maybe you can give it a try this week?
Today is the day we pause to celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. I went back and looked at my post from two years ago, which was about dreams – specifically one of Dr. King’s dreams becoming a reality. That was sort of focused on what he saw – his vision. Today I want to focus on one of the great man’s best qualities that influenced how he acted to make that vision real. I think it’s applicable to business. No, it’s not going to be another ethics rant (although those are never out of style in my book). Today, it’s about the most important skill I think all great businesspeople – and great leaders – possess.
To me, great leaders serve to fulfill the needs of their people. For Dr. King, it meant endless meetings with various groups to understand their concerns and explain how broadening civil liberties to be more inclusive could help meet them. For those of us in business, it means paying more attention to the concerns of our customers and co-workers than to our own agenda – these folks ARE our agenda to a certain extent, along with the underlying needs of our businesses. In a word – listen.
Everyone wants to feel as if their ideas and thoughts are being heard if not acted upon. Without someone hearing them, acting on those concerns is impossible. Listening, then speaking, brings trust.
I know this isn’t a new thought in this space but it came to mind on this day thinking of Dr. King. If you go back to the early days of Dr. King’s involvement in the civil rights movement, it’s pretty clear that he was a reluctant leader. He was drafted to lead and was kind of unsure of himself. As he listened to the members of the community and other clergies, he realized that he was simply a voice for the community and their agenda became his agenda.
Many of you will be familiar with Stephen R. Covey, who wrote that we ought to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I think Dr. King if he read pop-psychology, would have appreciated that.
What are you listening to today?