Leadership as a Value: Doing What’s Right

On this celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded and once again inspired by his simple, yet profound statement: The time is always right to do what is right.

As a leader, people are counting on me to make smart, well-thought-out, and consequential decisions—to do the right thing. I am responsible to our staff, our funders, the people we serve, our board, and to the public at large. And so, every day, I ask myself: Am I doing the right thing?  I have the responsibility to make decisions every day, and with that comes the responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

I have always believed that leadership is an evolution of thought, of skill, of insight.  I don’t believe that there is such a thing as finally “arriving” at leadership competence. I can’t imagine what that could possibly look like.  It is certainly not a role, nor a title.  The longer I am a leader, the more I become convinced that leadership competence is most clearly characterized by how accurately one assesses a situation.  The depth of the questions, the understanding of the situational nuances such as cultural constructs, politics, social constraints, and logistics—when understood—lead to smart, or at least smarter, decisions.

Some leaders believe that their job is to seek consensus. That has never been my focus.  People can come to consensus around the wrong answer. Once again, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr, who said: A genuine leaders is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.  By creating a process where people are driven to work toward the right answer, not simply agreement, there is a stretching of vision, of minds and hearts.   There is an excitement.  There is the possibility of doing the right thing—more than we ever could imagine.  We actually make a real difference–eliminating poverty, inequity, stigma.

And so, as we celebrate one of the world’s greatest leaders this week, I invite all of us—no matter what role we play, wherever we work—to heed his timeless and profound advice: The time is always right to do what is right.