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January 15, 2007
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

God Save the ‘King’

On Jan. 15, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have been 78 years old. He would have lived through decades of amazing technological changes, and continuing progress in America’s quest to close gaps and narrow inequalities between races, genders, persons of different sexual orientations and persons of different languages and national origins.

He would have seen tens of millions of immigrants continuing to come to America to realize their own versions of the American dream. It’s hard to even imagine how much more progress would have been made in creating a great and equitable society if he had been able to continue as a passionate advocate.

Conventional wisdom recounts that his great contribution to the world was in the advancement of civil rights through non-violence. The HR Doctor, however, will focus in this article on another lesson from Dr. King that all of us as managers and administrators, not to mention as parents, community members and friends, need to learn and practice every day: the importance of creating a vision and enlisting others to share in that vision to help make it a reality.

The greatest weakness in public service, in this writer’s opinion, is the narrowness of our vision. We spend too much time counting paper clips and not enough time looking at the long-range vision of what our city, county or community could be like. We focus on the memo of the day and not on the momentous changes that could happen in our world if only we created the opening in thought and action to make these changes happen.

Dr. King was able to speak with amazing eloquence about what he saw in his own mind when he went to a metaphorical mountaintop and looked at the “promised land.”

That land could be a county or a country in which all children had health care coverage. It could be a place in which senior citizens are not prevented from enjoying their final years in dignity because of the cost of prescription drugs, the lack of health insurance or the scourge of loneliness. It could be a society in which no one dropped out of school or in which the unemployment rate was statistically insignificant.

The only hope for visions to become real is to create a vision of the future that is so compelling and so articulately presented that persons throughout the society agree to put aside lesser divisions to focus on the higher loyalty.

We have done this historically in times of war, and we have done this historically in times of other national opportunities, such as the mass polio vaccination program of the 1950s. In a sense, we do it every day. In commercial America when we create cultural icons or heroes or products which sell in the millions.

The HR Doctor recently received a gift of the book by Neenah Ellis entitled, If I Live to be 100, which explores what common characteristics long-lived individuals share. Based on the interviews in the book, the overriding common theme is not diet, occupation, genetics or fish oil. The common characteristic is optimism.

This is also the enduring legacy of Dr. King. In his case, the optimism was focused on closing racial and economic divides. However, his legacy can also be profoundly positive for us as individuals. It can mean a commitment to career development and personal growth on the job, or it can mean looking at a vacant lot filled with litter and imagining a new senior citizens’ health and recreation facility. It can mean a personal commitment to stop smoking, begin exercising or finish that college degree.

There is no end to the number of positive visions that can turn into reality if we learn to move with commitment and optimism to make the changes happen.

Here are a few of the HR Doctor’s favorites:

  • Make a commitment as a manager or executive in government to be a mentor to subordinates at work and children in the community. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister or a high school mentor. Be a teacher and a champion of the career development and success of others.
  • Find a teacher as well as be one. Commit to learn new skills. Learn to speak Spanish. Take up hiking, photography or one of the HR Doctor’s favorites, music. Review the HR Doctor article “Learn as though you were going to live forever” to be reminded of the importance of this concept.
  • Commit to personal health improvement by getting a check-up and following through on actions to reduce health risks by regular exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation and other steps already mentioned.
  • Do these things and do them soon. While you’re at it, take someone with you such as a colleague at work or a member of the family. It is easier to succeed in a plan if you have support from an understanding friend.
  • Make a major difference in the community. Be the catalyst to turn that vacant lot into a senior health center. Be a United Way champion. Be a “go-to” person for charities so your own reputation is enhanced and your own leadership skills are developed.
  • What better way to improve these personal elements in your life than by also helping other people on the way. There are no shortages of charities in the neighborhood, in the county or in the world that need your help.
  • Spend time with people you care about, including private time with yourself away from the excessive intrusions of the modern world. The HR Dog, Kamala, and I make time almost every morning for this purpose by taking walks together. It’s harder and harder to find privacy, meditation — call it what you will — but the more our lives are intruded upon by cell phones, horns honking, telemarketers and loud neighbors, the more we lose some part of the essence of our individuality.
  • Spend some time away from the television and away from the computer to pursue some personal passion.
  • Plan ahead for what your own life may be like after retirement. Invest energy in not only saving for financial security but also by taking steps to increase your long-term “intellectual security” as well. Think about things like where and when you might retire, and what active steps, including other employment, you will take to keep alert, alive and contributing.

Do all these things and you will have a significant set of New Year’s resolutions. You will also be walking in the pathway of Dr. King. Each of us can individually make the choice of whether to live our lives surrounded by large piles of paper clips or surrounded by a legacy that will make our children look back at us and say that we stood for something wonderful.

The HR Doctor wishes Dr. King a very happy birthday and hopes that you will spend some time reliving the great “I Have A Dream” speech and remembering the power of those words.

Best Wishes,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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