If there's one thing most can agree on, it's that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a transformative leader. His messages of love, hope, equality, and non-violence were just as true and inspiring then, as they are now.
Over the years many, self-included, have attempted to dissect what it was that made him such a phenomenal leader. As I began to pause this year to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, one thing jumped out to me as a major lesson as to what made him such an effective leader: he made everyone around him feel something.
Last night I watched a brief clip of Dr. King's final speech, "I've been to the mountaintop." Previously, I've watched the speech in its entirety, have read the full transcript in books, and still, I got choked up watching it.
Here are four elements to Dr. King's visible leadership that helped him stir up the needed emotion in others to move them to action. Embrace them to become a transformational leader.
1. Having a meaningful mission.
The Civil Rights movement was an important turning point in the history of the United States, that helped us make further progress away from a dark time in our nation's history.
His mission of equality spoke to African-Americans living in segregation. And it spoke to people who sympathized with the plight of African-Americans and other oppressed people.
Because the mission was noble, tangible, important, and meaningful, it made it easier for others to rally around it and support it.
Lesson for leaders: You inspire others to follow you when they have a vivid understanding of the purpose and stakes involved with your mission.
2. Using words that matter.
Over the years I've poured through Dr. King's books and speeches, and other commentaries on his life and legacy. One thing that always struck me was the language he used.
It was always strong. It simultaneously hit you in the heart and throat. It compelled you to want to take action. It transported you to a place where you could see a better future for yourself and others.
One of the often overlooked nuances about his copy were they were interwoven with historical references to ancient scholars, and texts. He made those important lessons come alive with skilled storytelling, that helped you understand familiar ideas in a whole new way.
I've heard the Biblical story of The Good Samaritan a million times. But when I heard Dr. King's take on it, the lesson came alive for me in a way it never had before.
Dr. King didn't just sit down to write or step up to a podium and the melodic words just poured out of him. He spent weeks, days, and hours writing and rewriting his speeches until they were just right.
Lesson for leaders: Carefully craft your message with words and stories that are memorable, stir up emotion, and mobilize others to take action.
3. Knowing how to deliver an important message.
There's no doubt that Dr. King was a great orator. The words and messages he delivered came to life more strongly because of the way in which he communicated. His epic "I Have a Dream" speech would have been very different had he read it from notecards or used bulleted powerpoint slides.
You don't have to have Dr. King's oratorical skills to become a transformational leader. Thankfully, technology has made it possible to create ways to deliver a message in a way that is engaging and digestible.
Your message is worthless if it isn't delivered in a manner that allows it to be received by your audience.
Lesson for leaders: Put as much thought and energy into how you will deliver your message as you to crafting the words you say.
4. Leading by example.
The thing I admire most about Dr. King and his legacy is the aspect that requires no talent or skill. Dr. King did everything he asked his followers to do, and in many cases more.
One of his most famous writings was the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" to other clergy members. Dr. King was jailed multiple time for his work. He stood at the front of the line for many marches and protests. He spent time talking to constituents, leaders, and relentlessly practiced empathy.
It sparks something in you when you see leaders deep in the trenches working side-by-side with you to accomplish a goal.
Leadership lesson: Model the behavior you want others to live by.
Many will take today to honor Dr. King's legacy with various acts of service. But his legacy can be honored and extended even more if more when you embrace lessons he taught us in how to be a transformational leader.