Martin Luther King Jr. needs not presentation. He is one of the most revered and impactful leaders and activists in history. His life and his legacy are an inspiration for many in almost every field of life. You surely crossed a post on social media quoting his words, and you probably watched or at least heard of his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Yes, the “I have a dream” one.
If he is still such an influential and loved leader, more than 50 years after his death, just imagine the impact that he must have had on people when he was alive.
Sure, he was trying to radically change American society, so I guess that many hated, disliked or feared him and his movement. Though, I was surprised to discover that, according to a 1968 poll, nearly 75 per cent of Americans, including a majority of African Americans, disapprove him and his leadership. A rate that it’s at least 25 points higher than five years before, after the “I have a dream” speech.
This article by James C. Cobbon Zócalo examines the main reasons for this drop in approval. To me, it looks like that the same things that made so many people follow Martin Luther King Jr are the ones that made them dislike him; his integrity, his idealism, his compassion and his courage.
In the beginning, his words opened the eyes of many, he helped everyone see a different world and made them visualize a new reality. A vision so vivid and real that sparked real actions.
However, to see better can quickly become uncomfortable. And when that discomfort grows, we begin to seek the easy answers, we become impatient, we want solutions, anything that could end the pain and just make us feel better.
I know reality is complex, and everything becomes blurry and messy when it comes to human stuff. Plus I’m no expert about MLK and his movement. However, it looks like people wanted something to fix what was broken while he talked about a “revolution in values”, something that challenged everyone to see better so they can create the way forward.
This article made me think about the role of a leader. I feel MLK was aware that his mission was to help others see better and not just feel better. Even if that would cost him immensely.
Isn’t that part of being a leader?
Coaching Is Not Meant to Make People Feel Better. Your Job Is to Make Them See Better.
These words by Marcia Reynolds have been running in my head like a mantra for a few months now. To change, transform and grow, we must begin by seeing better, by opening a crack in the web of stories and beliefs in which we live and see the possibilities out there. However, seeing better can be uncomfortable. As a coach, I’m learning to resist the temptations to help my clients feel better, to solve their discomfort. I know they have the resources in them to find their way through it. My role is to create and hold a safe space where they can go through the process.
Shouldn’t be this coaching mindset, at least in part, present in every leader?
When leaders focus solely on making people feel good, they may get a lot of love in return, but at what cost? People get comfortable where they are, their web of beliefs and stories becomes the only truth, and they stop growing. Isn’t this a waste of human potential?
To help others see better is as uncomfortable as seeing better. Some won’t love you, they may even hate you at some point. However, it is the best way to support someone else growth, to empower them.
If I look at the leaders that made a real positive impact, the ones that created a legacy, I recognize this mindset in them. They didn’t chase love or approval. They pursued a vision. With their words and actions, they challenged the status quo, they helped their people see better even when uncomfortable.
Isn’t this what we should expect from our leaders?
This article was inspired by a post by Shaun King.