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Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership & Consensus

Aloha and thank you for continuing to visit this blawg, I hope your 2017 continues to be off to a great start.

If you are reading this post hoping it is a continuation from last week’s post on communication it is not directly related, but will still follow in the vein on the topic of communication.  Instead, this week, I would like to briefly turn your attention to one of America’s great leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. as we head into the long weekend celebrating his contributions to the Civil Rights movement.

The quote above is from Dr. King, as he was addressing the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace.  While, he touched upon some of his signature themes in this speech, such as racial inequality and peace, the context of this particular quote was referencing his stance against the Vietnam War and how some had felt that it undermined his goal of the Civil Rights movement, especially being at odds with the Johnson Administration.  He had been urged to do the politically expedient thing, which was to support the Vietnam War to regain the backing of the Administration to support the Civil Rights moment.

I think it is important for anyone leading an organization, whether it is a business, a nonprofit corporation, or even an association to consider the stakeholders and those that you would rely upon or work with to carry out the goals and objectives of the organization.  While, many times what seems like the easiest route, which is just getting everyone to agree and moving forward, the reality is we all know it is much messier.  Consider when people have opposing viewpoints, or their interests do not neatly fit well with others (whether in or out of the organization), what do you do then?  Even if you are the leader of your organization, often you know a majority of your stakeholders (such as your members, directors, employees, or subcontractors) will be resistant to change or not understanding of it.  Dr. King’s sentence immediately before the above quote was, “I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of my organization or by taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.”  In fact, his speech cited many historical leaders that did not start out with popular ideas but were dissenters that kept to their ideals.

From my experience and in my opinion, you will not always get straight to an agreement on your decisions. You have to work at it, possibly for a long time; you have to build consensus through communication. Your ideas are your own, to assume that your business partners, clients, customers, patients, suppliers, vendors, representatives, etc . . . will immediately accept them is not always going to happen.

For me, I recently finished my term as president of Hawaii’s State Bar Association’s (HSBA) Young Lawyer Division (YLD) (which Trejur now occupies for the 2017 term), and I received a lot of information on how the HSBA is operated because of the amount of meetings I attended and reports that I was given by virtue of being YLD President. However, my Board of Officers and Directors was not.  One of my lessons learned was I should not assume my Board knew the things that I did. It was contingent upon me to spend a lot of time communicating information, but additionally when there was still resistance in light of that sharing, finding and identifying areas that we would agree.

Also, there were times, I did not get what I wanted, but I was not necessarily going to change my position. The goal would be to get others to change theirs. Along those lines, one of my bigger projects during my time with the YLD was updating the YLD’s bylaws, which I spent many years before drafting them, and also working on building consensus about what those changes would entail.  I spent many late nights sending emails, and putting comments into my drafts, and talking to fellow officers and directors to finally see through the YLD Board adopting the changes. While I would like to say it was solely through my efforts, it is not at all the case, it was done by a lot of communicating, compromising, but, yes, as Dr. King points out being someone who molds consensus rather than just seeking it out.

Just remember, as you enjoy this three-day weekend celebrating diversity and remembering the achievements of Dr. King that getting to “yes” or “I agree” was not easy for him and will not necessarily be easy for you, but that effective communication is pivotal to building consensus. So spend time on planning what you will say or write next, as it could inspire others.

Mahalo!

RKH

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