Monday, January 16, 2012

Leadership Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have always been inspired by the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This began at an early age when my mom showed me a napkin that he signed for her during a chance meeting.  It has continued through my professional career as I often quote Dr. King in speeches and presentations.  There are numerous lessons that one can learn from in studying the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The following are leadership lessons taken from quotes attributed to Dr. King.

“We must use time creatively. “
We are all given the same number of minutes each day.  Furthermore, we get the same number of minutes a day that Dr. King had when he was alive.  How are you using your time?  A leader’s calendar will always show his or her true priorities.   How does your calendar match up with your stated beliefs, priorities, and initiatives?

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
Leaders often search for consensus when beginning new initiatives or reaching critical decisions.  The idea of searching is quite passive.  Think about when you search for something on the internet.  Sometimes you are able to find it easily while other times you get distracted with different things you found.  The best leaders take control in critical situations and actively mold consensus.  

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.
Leaders know where they want the organization to head before many of the other stakeholders.  There are many similarities between innovation and leadership.  One of the key ideas that both concepts have is that if everyone is happy and content then neither is taking place.  A leader is responsible for continually moving an organization forward.  This will likely be in direct conflict to people who really like the way things currently run.  A leader has to be okay with people not agreeing and directly opposing initiatives.  Many people cannot see the staircase and therefore refuse to budge.

“I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.
Leadership is about passion.  The best leaders in history were passionate about the initiatives they were leading.  Dr. King is the perfect example of this belief.  What are you passionate about? 

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.
People often look for the quick fix as it pertains to all areas of life.  This is no different when it comes to leadership.  The best leaders engage themselves and others in hard, solid thinking around critical initiatives.  The easy way is also the route that most other people are currently taking.  The path to excellence is never easy but always worth the work.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.
Nowhere in this quote is the mention of bubble sheets, minimum standard assessments, and a deluge of data.  Leaders often set the bar too low in an effort to ensure success.  True leadership is about taking some risks in order to achieve greatness.  Greatness begins with an education system that teaches students to think both intensively and critically. 

Whatever your life's work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.
My father believed that if you weren’t going to do your best at a task (any task), then you shouldn’t even attempt it.  This also holds true for leadership.  The people whom you lead will both notice and emulate your relentless approach.  Similarly, they will also notice and emulate your approach if you are putting forth less than your best.  

These are just a few of the leadership lessons from a man who made a tremendous impact in the face of overwhelming adversity.  How will you employ these lessons into your leadership practices?

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