Every third Monday in January, America pauses to remember the life and legacy of one of the world’s greatest leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His legacy of service, morality, leadership, and faith is held as a beacon of courageousness and selflessness for all of us to emulate. His dedication to the cause of spreading the truth, creating good, and eradicating injustice continues to use as an example of the change in the world.
While all people are not born to be leaders of movements and have their stories told in history books, everyone can have a positive and impactful change within their homes, schools, churches, communities, and places of work. Leadership can be cultivated and can be used to rally scores of people to achieve a common goal. There are good leaders, bad leaders, and mediocre leaders, but the key is to be the best leader.
There is no shortage of great leaders to learn from. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., certainly stands out as one of the best leaders in his generation. For all of us to be better people and the best leaders, here are 6 lessons we can learn from Dr. King.
Reflect Sincere Optimism
Dr. King reflected sincere and genuine optimism in his speeches and in his conversations with team members and even unlikely allies. Part of the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement was that racism would one day be abolished. When people are looking to you as their leader for guidance and direction, it is important to remain optimistic about the future. Optimism is the faith that what one hopes for will be achieved.
Focus on the Greater Good and Aim for Empathy
It can feel like it would be easy to take on a project, a role, or the world by one’s self, but it is not always beneficial. Great leaders like Dr. King focus on what is the best thing to do for most people and how they can get other people involved to carry it forward. Change can be started by one person but it cannot be sustained by one person. Ensuring you have that vision and can influence others with that vision can turn peaceful resistance into integral parts of people’s lives. Spend time walking in other people’s shoes, understand their day-to-day struggles, and consider how you can experience the world from the point of view of a teammate, colleague, or friend.
Confidence in Speaking Up
Part of being a good leader is being able to say what is necessary and needed no matter the type of conversation or challenge you face. It is not speaking up to be arrogant, but speaking up to be heard. Resistance is difficult to overcome sometimes and giving in to the status quo is quite popular these days. But Dr. King did not fear resistance or sit quietly and allow his voice to go unheard. He put the mission and what he believed in before his own personal comfort and gain.
Align Your Best Allies
Collaboration is often a pitfall for many leaders but it wasn’t for Dr. King. Being on top or in front can stir up pride, envy, and competition, leading some to think that being the boos means they have to do it all by themselves. Dr. King had some friends and some enemies, but he was able to reason with those who didn’t necessarily like him and align them to a cause that mattered for the greater good. Having opponents by your side can be instrumental in the success of an organization. Remember, it is not always the smartest one in the room that matters the most. Learning to work alongside people you butt heads with can be one of the best decisions you make in business.
Serve Others First
Dr. King always found a way to serve and put other people first. There is always an opportunity to serve. Look for ways that you and your company or organization can get involved in the community. Take a “Day of Service” and serve the underprivileged in your community or even in another city or country. Encourage giving back whether it is with time, money, energy, or resources. Help other people come up and seek to understand the lack of social progress in underserved communities.
If you have read any of Dr. King’s speeches and books, you will see that he made many references to scholars, thinkers, and philosophers, some who even preceded his time. He even earned his doctoral degree in 1955. His ability to learn, read, and to keep learning and reading helped to shape his thought process and helped to solidify his legacy. To become a better person and a better leader, you must keep learning, keep reading, and keep growing. Carve out time to dedicate to learning from others across a wide range of industries and implement what you learn into leading your team and your business better.
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”