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Five Leadership Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a time to celebrate not only the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., but also the lessons he taught us. No matter what your role is, you’re a leader at some level, and these lessons will help you become an even stronger leader.

 

Share a compelling vision. 

Dr. King was certainly a visionary. He had a vision bigger than the times in which he lived. In his famous I Have a Dream speech, Dr. King described his vision in a clear, concise, compelling description: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Whether you’re pitching a new idea to your leadership, trying to win new business, or leading your team through a new path you need to take the time to expand and craft your ideas into a full-blown vision. What will the future look like when your idea is fulfilled? Fully describe it in detail, and you’ll be able to help others see what you see. And when they see that, they're more likely to buy into your vision.

 

Persevere no matter what. 

Achieving Dr. King’s dream wasn't an instant success. In fact, he didn’t live to see his dream fully realized. Throughout his efforts, Dr. King faced countless setbacks and failures. He was arrested over 20 times. His house was bombed. He was stabbed. That’s enough to force most anyone to give up on pursuing their dream. But Dr. King never let those obstacles stand in his way - he was determined to see his dream through. Throughout your career you’re going to face setbacks and failures too, but that doesn’t count. What really counts is if, and how, you persevere through those setbacks and failures. People are watching you, people that will experience their own setbacks and failures. If they see you persevere, you’ll inspire them to persevere too.

 

Foster collaboration. 

Not everyone in Dr. King’s network agreed on everything. But Dr. King had a way of getting people to stop fighting and work together toward a common goal. You and those you collaborate with may not always agree with each other on how you need to approach your work, but still have a common ground - a common goal - that unites you. As you’re working together, look for the common ground, and use that as a launching pad for collaboration. Like Dr. King said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

 

Face your challenges with courage. 

If you thought Dr. King was fearless, you'd be wrong. He was actually full of fear. He was downright scared before each and every major public appearance because he worried about how his ideas and speeches would be received. He was afraid that each speech might be his last. But he faced his fears head on, acknowledged them, talked about them, owned them, and then did his work in spite of his fears. The definition of courage isn't being fearless - it’s acting in the face of fear. When it comes to some major decisions or major actions in your career, you're likely going to feel some level of fear. Don’t worry - that’s normal. The key is for you to move forward regardless of your fears.

 

Disrupt the status quo for change. 

Dr. King knew that his dream of equality was more important than the status quo at that time. His actions backed his vision, and he shook up the culture. The same way of thinking always yields the same results. But Dr. King never accepted that just because things were a certain way, it made them the right way. One of the worst mindsets to have is, “This is the way we’ve always done things here, so this is how we need to keep doing them.” You need to be constantly evolving and innovating - that’s how you're going to stay ahead. And sometimes doing things completely different is what's necessary for evolution and innovation. 

 

I get it - the work you're doing is likely not as impactful as the work that Dr. King did. But you can make an impact on those around you. And these lessons will help you better understand how you can make that impact.

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