What I Learned About Leadership from Great Leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr.


The influence of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was fortunate to have experienced the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in person when I was young.  During my high-school years, I was able to be present and observe the sit-in demonstrations at the drugstore soda fountain counters and other places, in and around Atlanta, GA. In college, I was present when he addressed the student body as an official guest of Georgia State University (College, at that time). 

Dr. King was passionate about his vision. He was committed to success, no matter what. He was direct, honest, and nonviolent. He was a visionary leader, committed to changing the world against seemingly insurmountable odds. He was ultimately very successful, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

I remember his speech to the student body as if it were yesterday. He made points about our culture and customs that opened my eyes to new perspectives. Just one of those new perspectives was in our word choice. He pointed out that the customary use of the word “black” created negative images. Here are some of his examples:

  • It’s normal to be a “white sheep” in our families, but nobody wants to be the “black sheep” in the family. 
  • It’s normal to tell a “little white lie.” It’s really bad to tell a “black lie.”
  • When you do something bad, you get a “black eye.” 
  • When you double-cross someone, it’s called “blackmail.”
  • When someone is eliminated from participating in something, their name is put on a “black list.”
It’s easy to send the wrong message by using words that are customary, without thinking about their real or implied meaning. Furthermore, we act in ways that send a negative message without being fully aware of our impact on those whom we lead.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man of influence because he was aware of existing conditions and worked to change customs, culture, thinking, and relationships. He worked against angry and resistant people who hated him because he was an agent for change. Similar to Martin Luther, he stepped up when it was important and stayed focused on the essential change he knew could not be ignored. Read his speeches in a collection called, “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stay the course. Focus on the vision. Make a difference.

What’s the biggest challenge to your leadership? How will you commit to success?

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2012 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

Here are some quotes from this amazing leader who had a massive impact on the world:
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. 
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. 

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. 

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. 

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. 

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope. 

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. 
Other posts about great leaders:

Hugh Ballou (Author)