Every year, as we take time out to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I spend some time reflecting not only on what he was able to accomplish but how he was able to do it. We live in an age with many strong leaders, who've accomplished tremendous things, but arguably not of King's magnitude. So I'm always curious about what it was about Dr. King's leadership approach that produced such a profound impact worldwide, in the midst of extreme and unjust opposition.
As I pore over his books, speeches, sermons, and other accounts of his works, I get new revelations as to what made him such a transformational leader. Here are three tenets of Dr. King's leadership approach, that strengthened not only his impact, but also compelled masses of people to look to him as an example to follow, both while he was living, and long after his untimely death.
Dr. King felt a strong sense of urgency to challenge unjust laws and the terrible treatment of black people during the civil rights movement. That urgency prompted him and his leadership team to take bold action, including calling for the bus boycotts, various marches, and sit-ins.
That urgency fueled his boldness in telling government leaders that the progress they had made up to that point had been inadequate. It even caused him to call out other leaders in the clergy when they were silent on those matters of injustice.
As you work to achieve the goals you have for your business, don't shy away from bold action. That sense of urgency behind making positive change will fuel you and your team to move from where you are to where you want to be.
One of the elements that made Dr. King's movement so remarkable was how he was always diligent about making sure there was clarity around the norms he and his team expected of both themselves and others.
He did this because he knew the culture of the movement was critical to its quest in accomplishing its goals. Thus, Dr. King spent plenty of time talking about what that culture looked like, and even training followers on how to embody that culture as they went about fighting for the cause.
Here's how he covered this important topic in his iconic I Have a Dream speech:
But there is something that I must say to my people...in the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Don't leave your company or team's culture up to chance. Be clear about the values and behaviors you want everyone to embrace to create the environment needed to achieve your goals.
When you look at the issues Dr. King fought for, one unifying thread links them all together: belonging. Dr. King didn't want people to just exist. He wanted them to feel like they belonged in the spaces, environments, and in the world in which they inhabited.
In his I Have a Dream speech, King painted vivid pictures of what belonging looked like:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...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.
He was also clear to highlight how far we were as a nation from that ideal:
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.
As you work to create an environment where both your customers and everyone on your team feels like they belong, declare what belonging looks like. Then be honest about how the way you operate lives up to that standard, so you can chart a path forward for how to improve.