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Charting a Path to Leadership Excellence
Volume: # 16October/November/December 2012

President's Message

Reflections on Leadership Pragmatism, Persistence, Risk, and Authenticity

Serendipity recently provided me two adjacent, compelling personal experiences that linked the lives and dreams of the super-leaders Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. The first was Steven Spielberg's recently released movie, "Lincoln" chronicling our 16th President's struggle to pass the 13th Constitutional Amendment (abolishing slavery) through a recalcitrant House of Representatives. It's a story of leadership vision, persistence, and compromise. Perhaps the quote form the movie that best exemplifies Lincoln's very pragmatic approach to achieving this essential result was: "A compass will point you true north. But it won't show you the swamps between you and there. If you don't avoid the swamps, what's the use of knowing true north?"

Lincoln understood that his Emancipation Proclamation wouldn't be binding enough to ensure that slavery would be truly eliminated, and to be a great nation on the world stage, the U.S.A. needed nothing less than the authority of the Constitution to declare an end to racial repression. He had a world vision for America that smaller men and minds didn't share, and he recognized that to realize that vision, it required a measure of Machiavellian incentives and coercions. He saw beyond his time to a "true north", even though it did require traversing the "swamp" in Congress.

Just a week after seeing "Lincoln", I found myself in Memphis on business with a spontaneous opportunity to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. The museum has preserved the motel, and the room (206), where, in the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King was staying while helping organize a non-violent protest in support of the striking city sanitation workers. On the evening of April 4th, while leaving to go to dinner with Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson, he was assassinated on the balcony outside his room. He had given his famous "Mountaintop" speech at the Mason Temple the evening before in which he seemed to prophesize events:   


"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!"

The experience of standing on the spot outside of Room 206 where Dr. King lost his life has a severely profound, and melancholy, impact. It brings into stark relief that exactly 100 years after passage of the 13th Amendment, the grandsons and granddaughters of former slaves needed to rekindle Lincoln's vision and were still in a dramatic struggle to realize the freedom that the abolition of slavery had promised. Once again it took an exceptional leader to see through to the right side of history and step outside of convention to help galvanize a nation to realize justice.

The leadership lessons these experiences provide of persistence, risk and pragmatism needed to realize unpopular agendas are obvious; not so apparent are these extraordinary leaders' ability to generate and communicate a compelling, transcendent agenda. Both were great story tellers and genuine men with strong personal relationships and sophisticated world views. They rose above the political and temporal to challenge the status quo, and were able to generate commitment through personal example and sacrifice. They understood that as a leader you simply convey a message more important than one man. The biblical quote on the bronze plaque commemorating King's death near Room 206 of the Lorraine Motel reinforces that point:   


"They said one to another, behold here cometh the dreamer... let us slay him... and we shall see what will become of his dreams."
Genesis 37: 19-20
 Bruce Griffiths  


Bruce's signature


   Bruce Griffiths
 Happy Holidays!
OSI would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your families an enjoyable holiday season as well as a prosperous New Year in 2013.
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