I have a dream … so what?

The famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr has lived long and continued its power of being a rhetoric. It was clearly the most influential speech in the 20th century. Now it’s more than 50 years since; we remember this dearly because it was not only delivered with passion but executed with greater passion, commitment and follow-through.

Undoubtedly there have been many great ideas and some of them have died down simply because they couldn’t attract the imagination of a bunch of people or apply the rigour of following it through the course. It is driving a change and the ability of the person at the top to drive the change.

Taking an example of Pope Francis who is driving many changes in the beliefs and action of people across the globe. The changes that he is dealing with are in a domain that is very personal, sensitive and deep in the hearts of people. This is one of the most difficult agendas to pursue compared to what a CEO of a large conglomerate has to deal with in driving a change in an organization. The leader has a dream and the passion to fulfil it. How does one do?

Firstly, it is setting the agenda which dictates the priorities. The agenda helps deciding what to focus on and what to leave it to others to do and worry about. Agenda setting requires significant insight about the domain of work and the stakeholders. People move organizations and institutions all through their lives, whether it’s a child changing the school, going to a hostel, a family moving home, someone changing a job or a new responsibility coming one’s way involves transition into a new environment that brings its own pressures. Most often, in each of these transitions, the person going through the transition is accountable to someone else other than oneself. Thus, it is important to demonstrate the sense of responsibility to all stakeholders. Each time there is a transition, an agenda is needed. This is a complex and critical first step in realising the dream.

Secondly, it is internal alignment of the ideas. This is a clear second step and not a simultaneous action with the first one. This is possibly what Pope Francis is doing now or Indian Prime Minister is doing for their respective agendas. At times, these alignment steps can never happen and could lead to the dream remaining unfulfilled. Clear, concise, simple and periodic communication helps but isn’t the silver bullet to achieve the necessary buy-in of the people. There will always be people who will have a diverse viewpoints. The leader needs to be able to take in all the diversities like an ocean takes thousand streams. Of course, the situation in an autocracy could be very different. In most situations, alignment of all hands and minds is the critical second step towards realizing the dream.

Last but not the least, it is regular follow-up and course-correction. While the destination or the dream remain clear and sublime, it is important that the leader keeps focus on the right meters on the dashboards and stays open to making changes along the way. For example, climate control is an issue that most global leaders seem to be pursuing. If they have a dream, we need to see an agenda, alignment, the plans and the metrics. In case the plans do not yield the kind of results that they planned, the leader has to make the necessary course-correction.

Sounds very familiar, but quite challenging as one starts ploughing!

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