This review originally ran in The Hamilton Spectator.
Bury My Heart At Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers
By Stan Slap
Portfolio Penguin ($32.95)
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. It was a defining moment for the American Civil Rights Movement.
In his 17-minute speech, Dr. King said “I have a dream” eight times. As author Stan Slap points out, Dr. King didn’t say to his audience of 200,000 civil rights supporters “of course, that’s just my dream. I’m sure you have your own dreams. So now we’re going to break into separate dream teams and come back together with one big dream statement.”
Dr. King never said that. Instead, he told the marchers and the nation that this was his dream. “He was saying my dream,” says Slap. “My. Dream. But what I’m going to do is use my dream to make your lives better than you ever thought possible so it will become your dream, too.”
And that’s the hallmark of every great leader, says Slap, who heads up an international consulting company that specializes in building commitment in managers, employees and customers.
“They may think it’s nice that you have your individual values but that doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with their leadership.”
Leaders aren’t concerned that the rest of us have different values. They know we’ll support their values and their dream if following along will make our lives better.
True leaders live their values at work, at home and in the community. They know what matters most to them and they don’t shy away from sharing their values with the rest of us. Not only do they tell us what they believe in. They tell us where their values came from and what shaped and influenced their fundamental beliefs.
While leaders accomplish great things at work and out in the world, Slap says their initial motivation is all about meeting their own deepest values. They’re driven to get to a better place where their values are fully realized. A better place where what matters most to them isn’t compromised or sacrificed.
Leaders can’t get to the better place on their own. They need our help to get there. “If a leader could get there all by themselves, they’d just go,” says Slap. “They’d send you a postcard from the Promised Land: ‘I have a dream. You’re not in it.’’
So leaders do a masterful job of telling us about their better place and how it’s good for us, too. In leader-speak, the better place is called vision. Along with bringing that vision to life, leaders talk about the bitter place we currently find ourselves in and desperately need to get out of.
“If there’s one thing a leader is great at, it’s inspiring you with a vision of a better place. A wonderful destination, tantalizingly out of reach but realizable by joining his righteous crusade. If there’s another thing a leader is great at, it’s making you absolutely miserable by describing how much your life sucks right now because you’re not in that better place. You’re in a place even worse than you could ever imagine without their help.”
Getting from the bitter to the better place isn’t easy. It’s hard work, uncertainty and anxious times down “40 miles of bad road called ‘real life at this company,’” says Slap.
So great leaders make it easier by packing something extra for the trip. They offer emotional fulfilment. All of us want to feel significant. We want to belong. And we want a sense of self-worth.
Leaders tell us we’ll get all of that on our journey to the better place. Getting there is important so that makes us and the work we’re doing important too. It takes a special team to travel that 40-mile stretch of bad road. A smart, tough, dedicated, focused team at the top of its game.
“Causing people to feel emotional fulfilment along the way to your better place will energize them and make them instinctively act in whatever way creates more of the same good feeling. Want to feel that you’re significant, that you belong and that you’re worthy? Keep moving to that better place.”
Don’t despair if you’ve lost touch with your core values or lack the courage to stand up for what you believe. Slap outlines the winning formula he’s used with tens of thousands of managers through his Bury My Heart at Conference Room B management development training program.
“These managers regularly report that the same concepts and methods included in this book were a transformational experience, rattling their bones and homesteading in their souls.”
Living your values at work will earn you emotional commitment, what Slap calls the ultimate trigger for discretionary effort and worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined. People will follow you because they want to, not because they have to.
And living your values in our community will help make Hamilton the best place to raise a child. For all the kids who go to bed hungry and wake up with a little less faith and hope, we need someone to step up and say I have a dream. And the rest of us need to say we share that dream and we’re ready to take that ride to a better place.
Jay Robb works and lives in Hamilton and blogs at jayrobb.typepad.com.