I'll be honest: I don't know what it means to be African American in the United States, yet I've found tremendous inspiration from the words of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. over the course of my career. In fact, I'd be shocked if you can't find business inspiration in some of these MLK quotes:
"Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend."
An important lesson about leadership. It is so incredibly easy in business to think about how to get revenge on people who have slighted you, but that is an incredibly exhausting way to spend your time. Instead, take that time and invest it in turning counterproductive relationships into positive ones.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
We think about all of the things that matter in our personal lives, yet we spend so many hours in the office, it makes little sense to forget about inequities we notice there. If we see a coworker mistreated by their supervisor and say nothing, we're making the decision for our lives to matter just a little bit less than if we speak up.
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
Truly one of the more simple and yet insightful quotes from Dr. King, it is also a great tenet of business. Sure, it's possible to get rich while trampling on others along the way, but it's also possible to be successful while lifting others up. The latter approach is far more productive and fulfilling.
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
If you look at some of the most profound accomplishments in human history, many of them are based on faith: someone took a step towards their goal without being able to clearly see the entire path ahead of them. Think of how much poorer we would be if we didn't have faith in ourselves to take calculated risks.
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
In business you're going to find yourself in situations where your back is against the wall. You might have made a mistake on a high-profile presentation, or lost a major client accounting for nearly a quarter of your startup's revenue. Yet, these occasions are actually blesssings in the disguise, as these are opportunities to find out what you're truly made of. It's hard to appreciate these challenges when you're in the moment, but do your best to do so; these are the moments when you'll truly grow.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
When you think of injustice, your mind might automatically go to thinking about societal ills like crime and poverty. There is also plenty of injustice to be dealt with in the workplace. For one, bullying. Workplace bullying can have pretty severe negative effects on your coworkers, including elevated stress, low self-esteem and depression, absenteeism, decreased productivity, and insomnia. It doesn't just have an impact on those who are being bullied; it can affect people who witness bullying, lowering their overall morale.
"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."
I have always found it comforting to accept that whatever I try to accomplish in my life is likely going to involve significant setbacks along the way. Often, I turn out to be completely right, and something goes wrong: no big deal.
When you accept that there will be disappointments along the way, it allows you to not get distracted by setbacks, and to treat them as temporary. The more you accept disappointment, the less you'll be discouraged-and the more likely it is that you'll keep the faith.
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Too often in business, we let perfect be the enemy of good. We tell ourselves that we don't have the time to write a detailed business plan, so we don't even develop a business plan outline. We don't think we can fully solve the interpersonal issues we have with our boss, so we don't try to fix them whatsoever. What MLK teaches us here is that above all, progress is progress. If you get stopped in one way, chances are there's another way to tackle your problem.
"The time is always right to do what is right."
Likewise, sometimes you know that there's something you have to do in business, whether it's letting go of a client that is engaging in unethical business practices or firing a highly productive employee who verbally abuses others in the workplace. Don't wait until the time is perfect, because that will never happen. Instead, take the action you know deep down you're going to have to eventually take anyway. You'll find yourself more productive for doing the right thing the moment you realize it's the right course of action.
Have you ever thought of MLK as a source of business inspiration? What are your favorite of his quotes?