Martin Luther King Jr. has now been dead longer than he lived. But what an extraordinary life it was. At 33, he was pressing the case of civil rights with President John Kennedy. At 34, he galvanized the nation with his "I Have a Dream" speech. At 35, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. At 39, he was assassinated, but he left a legacy of hope and inspiration that continues today.
Martin Luther King is probably the most famous person associated with the civil rights movement. King was active from the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 to 1956 until his murder in April 1968. To many Martin Luther King epitomized what the civil rights campaign was all about and he brought massive international cover to the movement. Here are his 8 Leadership lessons :
Lesson 1 : Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality. Great leaders do not fool themselves or try to sugar coat problems. Dr. King did not pull any punches. He faced the most brutal facts of his current reality. Great leaders maintain unwavering faith that the company can and will prevail, regardless of present difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the company’s current reality. “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free.”
“One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”
Lesson 2 : Great leaders engage the heart. Give people a sense that they are already part of the way towards success instead of starting at ground zero. Remind them of past successes and encourage them that they are bigger than the change. Make the change itself smaller so that it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. By making the person feel bigger and the change smaller, they are more likely to succeed.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’”
Lesson 3 : Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo. The great leaders are not passive; they are active. They are unwilling to acquiesce to their circumstances. They must make sure that they are active participants in the Society. They must rise to the call for leadership, seek information on influential positions to bring positive change, and provide great input.
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Lesson 4 : Great leaders create a sense of urgency. Most everything in life works to slow us down, unless we are consciously doing things to speed us back up. As the great leaders, they must create the sense of urgency to keep things moving forward. They refuse to just sit by and let things take their natural course. They have a sense of urgency and communicate it.
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
Lesson 5 : Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values. It would be easy for the civil rights movement to change tactics and resort to violence. Some did. However, like Nelson Mandela did when he became president of South Africa, Dr. King called his people to a higher standard.
“We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Lesson 6 : Great leaders refuse to settle. It would have been easy for Dr. King to negotiate a compromise, to settle for less than his vision demanded. But he was stubborn—in a good sense. He persisted, and he called his followers to persevere.
“No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Lesson 7 : Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers. To lead is to put others and their needs before yourself; to be a good leader, you must consider the good of the many over the good of one. At the same time the great leaders notice the effort their people have expended. They verbalize and affirm it.
“You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
Lesson 8 : Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow. Leaders can never, never, never grow weary of articulating their vision. They must be clear and concrete. They have to help their followers see what they see.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
Take your time in reading them. Inwardly digest them. Chew on them. Be challenged by them. Don’t discard them, but simply ask yourself ‘what is the lesson I have just learned from Dr. King’ once you have read them. Read them more than once. Seek to understand. It will change forever the way you understand Martin Luther King’s thoughts & lessons.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Thank You Very Much Sompong Yusoontorn