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7 Simple Entrepreneurship Lessons from Martin Luther King

An entrepreneur reflects on what we can learn from this American hero, and apply to our own organizations.
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On this national holiday, we celebrate the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American hero. Dr. King was a leader in many respects of the word: a civil rights leader, a religious leader and and an African-American leader. How can his teachings, speeches, writing and actions help us become better leaders in our businesses and life? How can Dr. King help you become a better entrepreneur? Here are seven simple entrepreneurship lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King:

1. Dream big. 

Dr. King is best known for his "I have a dream" at the March on Washington in 1963. A great entrepreneur always dreams big, and shares his or her vision with employees, investors, customers, prospects and the world. You have to have to have a dream- and a big one in that, to take the huge chance that is entrepreneurship. What are you dreaming up now, and how will you share it?

2. Persuade without power.

Using non-violent civil disobedience, Dr. King was able to persuade millions of Americans to join the civil rights movement and support his dream. As an entrepreneur, you have to get a lot of people on your side: investors, customers, and most of all, employees. You can try to be powerful and aggressive, to be the "boss" in the traditional sense of the world, but this is increasingly ineffective. The best way to persuade people to get what you want is to be kind, passionate, supportive and grateful. How can you persuade without power?

3. Give people something to believe in. 

Dr. King was one of the best leaders in modern history in getting people to believe in his dream--to get people to embrace his vision and mission and support him unconditionally. As an entrepreneur, you too can and must give people something to believe in. At our Likeable Local offices, we have our core values, mission, strategy and one page strategic plan all hanging up on the walls for all to see, and embrace. How can you give people something to believe in?

4. Embrace fear and be courageous anyway.

Dr. King was never shy about admitting his fears--he was afraid that his points wouldn't be well received. Moreover, he was worried about violence breaking out. Many people, especially men, are taught from a young age, "Don't be afraid." But the truth is, we all have fear, and that's ok. As Dr. King taught us, it's better to admit you have fear, and find a way to be courageous in spite of that fear. As an entrepreneur, there are so many things to be afraid of- running out of money, your product not working, a key employee leaving. But if you embrace those fears, you'll be better off.  How can you embrace your fears?

5. Get everyone involved. 

Dr. King was able to build a real movement because he was able to get so many people involved--to truly "rally the troops," because everyone felt like they were part of something bigger than them. As an entrepreneur, you can involve everyone, and learn from everyone as well: every employee, customer and prospect has something valuable to teach you, if you'll only let them. Involve all of your employees in goal setting and strategy setting--you never know where the next great idea will come from. How can you better get more people involved?

6. Create a sense of urgency. 

Dr. King said in his "I have a dream" speech:

"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

Now is the time, for you as well. Now is the time for you to lead your team, and now is the time for you to build something of meaning, and now is the time for you to instill a sense of urgency in each and every person you speak with. Have passion for what you do and believe in, and you can create that sense of urgency.

7. Inspire people. 

Dr. King was so inspiring to so many people, and we can only dream (no pun intended) of being half as inspiring as he was. But as an entrepreneur, as a leader, your job is to inspire. Your job is to inspire your staff, your investors, and the world, about your mission and your products and services. Need some extra inspiration? Here are 365 quotes to inspire you and to help you inspire others.

These seven lessons continue to inspire me to be a better entrepreneur and leader each day. I am thankful to Dr. Martin Luther King for so much, including the thousands of leaders he inspired unknowingly, and those he'll inspire for decades to come.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Jan 19, 2014

DAVE KERPEN | Columnist | CEO, Likeable Media

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Local. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Likeable Media and the New York Times best-selling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business. Want to learn about how to grow your business using social media in two minutes? Click here.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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