The Unseen Side of Leadership

Are you correctly assessing the timing of your vision?


Rarely do people understand the hard work that is required to be a successful leader. Leadership doesn’t just happen overnight; it starts with a vision and takes persistence to turn that vision into a reality. 

Leadership expert Troy Jackson discusses a 1957 rally led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. Even though the rally attracted around 25,000 people, it ultimately had little impact due to the lack of energy around the civil rights movement at the time. Instead of bowing out, MLK was relentless and worked for six more years to build the momentum leading up to the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

Watch the video to learn how trying times can bring out the magnitude of your leadership.

When we think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the first things that comes to mind is his great speech in Washington, D.C., at a large rally. And of course, that famous refrain from that speech was, "Give us the ballot. Give us the ballot." Of course, that's not the speech we remember. That was the speech he gave at the first rally in Washington that he participated in in 1957 when a civil rights bill was going through the Senate and the House that was tepid and involved lots of compromise and really wasn't going anywhere.

No one remembers that March on Washington. There were about 25,000 people, which is impressive but they hadn't yet built the power. They hadn't yet done the spadework, the hard work, in the communities in the south to have a movement that was ready for "I Have a Dream." I think Dr. King could have given the "I Have a Dream" speech in 1957 and we would not remember it. King gave a lot of amazing speeches. The "I Have a Dream" speech sticks in our minds because it was the right speech at the right moment that was a culmination of an incredible amount of power and moral will that had been built by the movement in Birmingham, Alabama and Montgomery, Alabama and in places in Mississippi and places throughout the south. It was a culmination, a moment that we remember because they had done the hard work of leadership and development and building a culture and a movement over those interceding six years.

I often think about the difference between those six years and what does that mean for leaders. What does it mean to try something and for it to really not work very well? It was a noble try in 1957. 25,000 people is impressive. But when it didn't go well, and in the late 1950s the Civil Rights Movement didn't have a lot of energy, they kept at it. And it wasn't just Dr. King. It was a number of people kept at it. So you had the sit-in movement, you had the freedom riots, you had the Birmingham movement against Bull Connor with the dogs and firehouses.

There were people putting their lives on the line and Dr. King stayed in the battle, and they finally were ready for that catalytic moment of the "I Have a Dream" speech. It's only through persistence, it's only through staying engaged, and it's only, frankly, through hard work, that leadership is able to fully be manifested. The idea that leadership is just about a good idea or a whimsical creative notion minus the hard work of building something and growing other leaders around you and building a movement, that's why our visions fail. Dreams happen when you do the hard work to take us from 1957 to 1963.

Troy Jackson

Leadership expert Troy Jackson has been involved in community organizing for four years—first as a volunteer leader and then as a faith organizer in Cincinnati and throughout Ohio. He has been actively involved in calling for comprehe...

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