Martin Luther King’s inspiring statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is held up as the inevitability of human goodness, and that right will prevail.
However, when you actually look at human progress, you can see that it is less a natural progression, and more a bloody struggle of courageous people bending that arc with their own courage and bare hands.
I draw comfort from this because that struggle is real, and accepting this gives me room to step up. It has me be a grown-up and not a whiny baby or a princess waiting to be rescued.
The change process is ongoing and there is no end point! Yes, there are plateaus along the way where we can rest to enjoy the view, but there is always another hill to climb. A default mindset resists this reality with its ‘there’s something wrong; why is it like this; it shouldn’t be like this’ view of the world.
When we spend time in this default mindset, our energy gets diverted toward resignation and despair, or firefighting and drama. Like chickens squawking at the fox near the henhouse, there might be lots of activity, but little of it productive.
A Leader’s Mindset, on the other hand, accepts this uncertainty – and responsibility. It knows this is the territory we live on, and from that place we make our stand. Energy is channelled into potent action, rather than diverted in impotence.
Does this sound grim? I don’t think so. I think it’s liberating! Here’s why.
I was on a call last week with the team at the global Hunger Project. We were talking about the book I am writing with Prof Badiul Majumdar on his leadership journey, the profound insights that led to large scale change, and the impact this has made in Bangladesh and beyond. It is part inspirational memoir and part practical understanding of how countries can change, people can rise and new futures can be created.
On the call, Dr John Coonrod, THP’s Executive Vice President, commented that “history is a constant quest toward human dignity, with lots of bumps in the road.” This pulled me up short because I feel it speaks to a truth we sometimes forget. What is noticeable about Badiul’s journey is how when he hits those bumps, he opens himself to them. He uses them to dig in and find a new course. This is leadership and it’s not common. What is more typical is shielding, curling inward to be protected from shocks or bumps – and staying there.
If we are up to anything meaningful, there will always be bumps. If you are wanting to influence your organisation’s culture, or your family dynamic, or the trajectory of your own life – it won’t be smooth sailing!! It just won’t be. Now we know this intellectually, but when the bumps and disappointments come (and they will), notice your expectation on how you thought it should go, and your reaction to this. Decommission your default mindset and activate your Leaders Mindset instead.
The more we can move out of a default mindset of ‘it shouldn’t be happening like this, I can’t do anything about this’ and into a Leaders Mindset of ‘given this, what is my most powerful response’, the more likely we are to relish our part in bending that arc of the moral universe toward justice.