By: Kim Ellsworth
If you’re like me, you might dream big and then struggle with motivation when your aspirations feel too distant. Whatever your goal might be: weight loss, overthrowing the patriarchy, solving world hunger, or boosting morale in your organization, start with small steps and remain consistent.
I love the example of Rosa Parks. Growing up I admired her, I recall even using my dolls to reenact the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But I knew little of her life before or after December 1, 1955, when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. That day sparked a movement and helped facilitate momentous changes in our nation, but the story behind it is much bigger, and perhaps less glamorous, than one single moment of courage when facing an injustice. The events of that day were a culmination of many small but consistent steps year after year.
Rosa Parks had a long history of activism and training (LaMotte, 2014). She had served as the secretary for her local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for twelve years prior to her first arrest (Friedman, 1999). She attended a ten-day training camp learning about nonviolent resistance (LaMotte, 2014). Her actions were “the result of long-considered convictions and years of work, training, and practice” (LaMott, 2014).
It is tempting to look at one inspiring moment and one great actor and forget about all the other moments and actors that paved the way. This narrow view of history can be immobilizing. Glorifying someone with a “hero narrative” (LaMott, 2014, p. 66), doesn’t compel us toward action because we don’t think of ourselves as heroes. Therefore, we admire people who achieved great things, without realizing that we can also achieve great things.
In Montgomery, Alabama, small, but consistent, steps paved the way to a large-scale societal change. The same thing can happen in our daily lives and in our organizations! I bet we can all think of transformational leaders who have transformed the way we understand the world of work: Henry Ford, Stephen Covey, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Cesar Chavez. I would presume none of their achievements happened overnight, but with consistent steps and ongoing action, they were able to accomplish big things. I would encourage you to dream big, and to steadily and consistently work toward your goals.
One tool I love to help me channel my dreaming, is a modified version of appreciative inquiry. This exercise can be done individually or as a group. First, think about where you are. Be honest. The good, the bad. Write it down in one column. Then, dream about where you want to be. Go ahead and dream big! Do you want 100% participation in your employee training programs? Great goal! Do you want to improve employee retention by 50%? Fantastic! Write those goals in another column. And then it’s time for the imagination to take hold. You know where you are. You know where you want to be. What steps will help bring you from one point to the other? This is an excellent group brainstorming activity. I think you’ll find that the dream might be momentous, but the steps toward success are feasible.
In the inspiring words from the book World-Changing 101, “Don’t discount the value of beginning” (LaMott, 2014, p. 61).
Cooperrider, D., & Whitney, D. (1999). Appreciative inquiry: collaborating for change (booklet) San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Communications.
Ellsworth, K. (2018). The Power of the Consumer: Boycotts and Bravado. (In-process, unpublished master’s thesis). College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN.
Friedman, M. (1999). Consumer boycotts: effecting change through the marketplace and media. New York: Routledge.
LaMotte, D. (2014). World-Changing 101. Montreat, NC: Dryad Publishing