Leadership Lessons from Martin Luther King
January 21st is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When you look at King, solely from a leadership perspective, what stands out to you? What made him such an effective leader?
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a profoundly gifted leader. Some of us are old enough to have memories of him while he was living. I think one remarkable aspect of King’s leadership was his vision. A leader sees a possible future so clearly and articulates it so well that he is driven by it. King’s vision was a dream.
The second remarkable aspect would be that he was brilliant. If you are leading people and trying to discern the right course of action, it helps to be smart.
A third leadership trait that stands out was his courage. King put his life on the line right to the end, when was snuffed out by a rifle. Without courage you can’t lead people through tough times, or into the hard places we need to go. King’s commitment to non-violence meant he had power over his violent enemies. Those who went a violent route to solve the problem of racism didn’t have the same effect. You do have a power over your enemies if you are being dragged away to jail while being called malicious, ugly words, as your adversaries are siccing their dogs on you and blasting you with fire hoses and yet you aren’t fighting back The racists were defeated when Americans saw that.
Another thing was that the time was simply right. We sometimes wonder why certain people rise to the head of the pack in terms of leadership, and the answer is that their time has come. In God’s providence, Birmingham and Montgomery came together and thrust him, seemingly against his own desires, into a kind of leadership that he couldn’t account for.
Now, there are people who would want me to be balanced by pointing out his flaws, so I will just say he that had them, and they were serious. But even that is a lesson, isn’t it? God in his providence uses broken sticks to straighten some lines. So yes, he was an imperfect man, and that should be known, but the knowledge of it doesn’t cancel out the amazing good that came through his life and the remarkable gifts that he had.