6 Leadership Lessons from Martin Luther King Jr.

3 min read
Jan 16, 2017

leadership lessons

Monday, January 16 is the day we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who played a tremendous role in shaping the trajectory of the United States.

In celebration of the holiday, here are six leadership lessons Dr. King taught us that still ring true today:


01. Inspire followers by delivering inspirational speeches

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King delivered what would become his most famous speech — the “I Have a Dream” speech — in Washington, DC. The speech was so successful for a number of reasons: King’s enunciation and voice were perfect, he used repetition powerfully, and he didn’t speak down to his audience. Remarkably, the most famous lines from the speech were actually ad-libbed; King went off-script and spoke from the heart.

When the going gets tough, great leaders are able to rally their troops by giving powerful speeches that bring everyone together and provide optimism.


02. It’s possible to build a better tomorrow

Although the United States still had a lot of progress to make on the civil rights front — and it was an uphill battle, to say the least — Dr. King didn’t give up. He knew that with hard work and determination, things could change for the better. To that end, he told his supporters of a future he imagined could one day become reality.

Things don’t always work out as we plan. While we don’t have the power to change the future altogether, we do have the ability to shape it — however slightly. Leaders understand that the decisions they make today can affect the reality their company faces tomorrow. Just because things may be less than ideal right now doesn’t mean they will be that way forever.


03. Tell it like it is

Dr. King didn’t sugarcoat his language or beat around the bush. He spoke truthfully and directly to those who would listen.

Great leaders communicate transparently with their employees. They inform workers of what’s going on today and what is expected to be coming down the pike tomorrow. Honesty establishes confidence and trust.


04. Don’t like the way things are? Work tirelessly to change them

Dr. King was not happy with the status quo. Rather than internalizing that disappointment and accepting it as an inalterable truth, however, Dr. King took a proactive stance and worked to enact change to the greatest extent he could.

Great leaders are not passive by any stretch of the imagination. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their own situation, as well as the situation of those around them. Not only do great leaders have a vision of tomorrow, they also have the energy and determination needed to work hard to achieve it.


05. There’s wisdom everywhere

Dr. King certainly tapped into a lot of famous philosophers and thinkers in many of his writings and speeches. But at the same time, he encouraged those around him to find the value in everyone. You never know when the person shining your shoes, for example, can offer you a profound piece of life-changing advice.

Leaders understand that everyone has something to contribute. The lowest-level employee can come up with an idea that changes your entire organization.


06. Partner with the right people

Dr. King built a formidable network of religious leaders, activists, and community organizers. He also allied with powerful people — like President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Great leaders know that they are incapable of accomplishing everything they want to accomplish on their own. They work hard to form alliances with folks who have mutual interests and can help them get things done.



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