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Leadership Lessons: Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 83 years old today had his life not been cut short by an assassin's bullet. In commemoration of his life and legacy, his birthday will see the launch of The King Center Imaging Project, which will make thousands of never-before-seen documents and papers accessible online.

As one of the world's great modern leaders, we take a moment to look at leadership lessons that King offered.

Michael Hyatt offers Eight leadership lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. that he heard when re-listening to the I Have a Dream speech. We've summarized them here but click on the link for his full commentary.

  • Great leaders do not sugar-coat reality.
  • Great leaders engage the heart
  • Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo
  • Great leaders create a sense of urgency
  • Great leaders call people to act in accord with their highest values
  • Great leaders refuse to settle
  • Great leaders acknowledge the sacrifice of their followers
  • Great leaders paint a vivid picture of a better tomorrow

Professor at Columbia Business School Hitendra Wadhwa talks about how Martin Luther King wrestled with and controlled his anger an article entitled The Wrath of a Great Leader. Citing examples of how King channeled his anger to a higher purpose, Wadhwa notes that "Great leaders do not ignore their anger, nor do they allow themselves to get consumed by it. Instead, they channel the emotion into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. They use it to step up their game." Simon Sinek expands on Dr. King’s power of leading others by sharing his own beliefs. The result? “People who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own."

Ted Talks compiled a playlist of videos that highlight Martin Luther King's visionary leadership. Three speakers talk about ways that King’s passionate style galvanized followers.

Leadership quotes from Martin Luther King

Nothing offers a better leadership lesson than King's own words. Here are a few quotations that exemplify his leadership.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

"A man all wrapped up in himself is a mighty small package."

"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."

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."

"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

"All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."

"Let no man pull you low enough to hate him."

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