The mid-seventies motion picture All The President’s Men popularized the phrase follow the money. In the dramatization of the political scandal that became known as Watergate, the informant referred to as Deep Throat offered this phrase as the key to identifying those responsible for the dirty trick.
Questions about the events surrounding the 1972 U.S. Presidential election — who was behind the break-in at the Watergate…and why — made for compelling news coverage, and an entertaining motion picture. For months we investigated, probed, and prodded anyone that might provide insight into what had happened.
It has become a popular spectator sport. Whether anecdote or era, we believe in unearthing and examining what has happened. This is not to suggest that we ignore the lessons of history. But what if, in our focus on the past…on the implications of precedent and data…what if we have things turned around?
What if the real lesson of history is that leadership is about a distinct and articulated vision for the future? What if the existence and makeup of a view of what might be provides a window on what tomorrow will bring?
Consider three historical markers.
Even as he reflected on and drew context from history, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was about a vision. “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
In the wake of challenging Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” President John F. Kennedy presented an almost unimaginable vision for a struggling space program — to put a man on the moon.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most memorable words to those assembled on the Mall in Washington, D.C. did not provide a ten-point analysis of a nation’s ills. Rather, they called us to a mountain top…to a perspective only accessible through eyes clear with bold aspiration. And his words resonate to this day — “I have a dream.”
Granted, boisterous tyrants have managed to build empires — from neighborhoods to nations — with clenched fists and seeds of fear. But this is the easy road. There will always be something to fear. Manipulators who tap into it can easily precipitate reaction.
But fear seldom gives rise to lasting change. And history’s most compelling visions are rarely rooted in the negative.
Whether small tribe, global enterprise or world power, the venture driven by fear perceives danger at every turn. This is not the stuff of progress. Much less, growth.
Where there is vision, there exists a kind of future-movie — exemplified by Dr. King’s dream for all children, JFK’s audacious idea of a man on the moon, and Lincoln’s new birth of freedom.
A compelling future-movie is inclusive, taps into the best attributes of the players, and precipitates the decisions and actions that are the difference between good and great.
Tomorrow always brings a set of unknowns. But consider the possibility that history’s most poignant lesson — whatever the venue — is captured by the writer of Proverbs — “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”