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Visions observed are Visions…

by | Jan 20, 2022 | Martin Luther King Jr, observe, Vision

Who observed a Vision for you earliest, and is it still yours?

“He will make a fine judge”. I was probably 2 years old, and old wise woman from West Texas had pronounced this after feeling the lumps on my head – and there are plenty you can see these days without hair. 😉 That simple sentence put me on the path to learning what to do with the deep bass voice I had at 14 in the body of a 4’10” pre-teen still in boy’s shirts. I stepped up to deliver my first speech…

… which I won. It was a contest sponsored by the Optimist Club, and the topic was “I’m Just One”. I had to deliver a 3-minute oration. I wrote a decent speech – and delivered something that was compelling, mostly because again I believe the big butterfly bow tie beneath my deep voice was just so paradoxical as to be comedic. It put me into the local paper, alongside bigger kids who were younger, and qualified me for the Regional Contest. And in that, I would need to deliver the EXACT same speech, EXACTLY the same way. If you know me, another’s words from that generation are ringing out “DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!”

Talent and Vision are correlated, and observe: are they causal?

In High School, King became known for his public-speaking ability, with a voice that had grown into his beautiful baritone. King continued to be most drawn to History and English, and chose English and Sociology to be his main subjects while at the school. As he grew up, King garnered a large vocabulary from reading dictionaries and consistently used his expanding lexicon in his speech. King showed a lack of interest in grammar and spelling, a trait that he carried throughout his life, learning to recruit partners who could resolve this for him – an early win for delegation 😉

On April 13, 1944, in his junior year, King gave his first public speech during an oratorical contest, sponsored by the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World in Dublin, Georgia. In his speech, he stated, “Black America still wears chains. The finest negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar.” King was selected as the winner of the contest. On the 3 hour ride home to Atlanta by bus, he and his teacher were ordered by the driver to stand so that white passengers could sit down. The driver of the bus called King a “black son-of-a-bitch”. King initially refused… but complied after his teacher told him that he would be breaking the law if he did not follow the directions of the driver. As all the seats were occupied, he and his teacher were forced to stand on the rest of the drive back to Atlanta. Later King wrote of the incident, saying “That night will never leave my memory. It was the angriest I have ever been in my life.” This Vision would be observed differently by the whole world soon… 

observe that early Visions are very powerful…

My drive to and from the next contest pales by comparison. My father drove us over the 2 hours in his Mercedes – not as flashy as they are now – more odd as everyone drove American cars. Dad got it because it was very reliable and very safe, as he drove all over East Texas daily. I rode with him often, and in one case, we went into a lumber mill – the ultimate blue-collar location. Raw logs are dropped into this enormous machine that spins them and cuts the outer layer into plywood sheets. I asked him if he felt funny driving an “expensive car” into the plant. “Not at all. You are partnering with them on their business – they want you to observe if you are successful. If you aren’t, why should they take your advice?” It was one of many great life and leadership lesson from my Dad, similar to MLK.

This evening though, we were driving back after I placed 3rd in the contest. You would want to observe there were … wait for it… 3 contestants. Not sure why others were not there, but anyone else could have that trophy – and that came through. My 3-minute speech was delivered in less than 90 seconds – just wanting to get it over with. I observed quickly that this type of contest and particularly this type of speaking was not the Vision I had for myself – for now. Doing the exact same thing, the exact same way appeared way too constraining to my self-image. My Father, while furious, knew better than to talk, as did I, so it was a very quiet ride back home.

observing Visions – competing and your own – what makes a difference?

It has been interesting to observe and savor the stories of MLK’s youth – that he didn’t just come out of the chute clear on exactly what he wanted to be. He had an ordinary path that was also extraordinary in many ways, and yet, something we can all still learn from. Yes, he had some early Visions, but observe, many of them to date have been negatively framed. That fire is real, and I see it often in leaders of all levels. The really visible leaders often have a fire that is consuming them that they spend their entire life trying to extinguish with external fire suppressants. In this era of hero leadership, many, MANY, examples are available, and without going into that negative posture…

How does your Vision observe what is really happening

… I had a leader who, after a few months of coaching, finally articulated a very clear goal – for his business, for his life, and our coaching. “I have to be in charge of a business that has its name on the top of the building along the freeway. So I can take a picture of it to send to my father to prove I am successful.” Clear, unambiguous, and SMART if you are into that kind of thing. I was not – and slowly lost my connection to this leader as that was what dominated everything and all the partners around him. I believe he has achieved that goal, and I am not one to say it was not worth it…

… and as you are thinking about your Vision for the year, observe that often these early fires take on a life of their own. As we will see, MLK will find other ways to channel the fire and passion of those early Visions – one that we are still benefiting from, and trying to catch up to. It is a caricature but he was already a man on a journey that was accelerating – skipping grades, and tomorrow you will see more, but for today, one of his favorite songs, played at his funeral. Ain’t Got Time To Die ( … the YouTube is Robert McFerrin – yes – Bobby’s Dad.)

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