Martin Luther King on Change

In the current edition of the Wharton Leadership Digest, Dave Holloman, change management practice leader for IBM Business Consulting Services considers the change management lessons offered by Martin Luther King's campaign in Birmingham.

The article touches on the following concepts:

  • Conflict Can Be Constructive
  • Public and Personal Sacrifice Has Limits
  • Dramatizing the Reality to Vision Gap is Vital
  • Execution to Plan Supersedes Stakeholder Concerns and Desires

Perhaps the most interesting idea is the gap between vision and reality — and how dramatizing those differences can help motivate the people you work with. Some business thinkers have cast this as a performance gap and suggest that you measure it based on your vision or reality. One educational leader warns against lowering your goals based on such gaps. And still another change agent proposes that reality needs to be more clearly defined before any gaps can be identified.

How have you dramatized the gap between your work's reality — and your vision? What do you do to close that gap and move toward what Sparks describes as advancing structures rather than oscillating structures (in which no real progress is made)?

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  • Peter

    Your post reminds me of a Buddhist phrase:

    "Intellectual understanding ( Vision) that goes beyond ones capacity developed by practice (Reality) can lead not to real understanding but egoism."

    A couple of observations on vision:

    In answer to your question, I advocate non cognitive practices - stillness, silence and meditation for dramatizing the gap between your work's reality -- and your vision?

    As for vision, I'm not sure that the concept requires more thought. I'm not a big fan of the concept at present because of the prozac effect it seems to have on people and companies. It also seems to feed a moral philosophy based on ends.

    I also wonder if mature and complex companies need to move beyond vision. In such companies the sum of their actions means the world rushes at them more than they creep into the world. How such companies behave in this environment will have more to do with where they end up (reality) than any vision the company can conceive.

    Excellent post Heath.

  • Sadagopan

    Dave is brilliant. The lesson that stands out is how leaders need to rise above all immediate concerns and relentlessly pursue the vision.Present-day realities are often viewed as less important than a future vision. But the gap between the present situation and the intended change motivates action. Placing a future vision within the context of the present demonstrates the degree of progress required, which is essential. Can't agree more.