Over the past two years I have mostly spoken about the corona virus and the impact this has had and what we can learn about leadership in dealing with the crisis. There is of course another virus that has been in society for a lot longer than Covid-19 and that is the virus of racism that has infected communities for decades. The stories that came out of America last year in the wake of  the murder of George Floyd were nothing new.

There does appear to be a lack of leadership both from the top and also within communities, the type of leadership that makes everyone stop, listen and respond. Martin Luther King Jr is often used in leadership course as a demonstration of what great leadership looks like, but what were those characteristics that made him a great leader, how did he lead and what lessons can we learn from him?

Here are 6 lessons I believe we can all learn from Martin Luther King Jr:

He led with courage, he was not afraid to challenge the status quo, he was not afraid to risk everything for what he believed to be right and just. We too have to be courageous in our leadership, in our decision making. We should not be afraid to challenge the status quo and ask questions. Aristotle called courage the first virtue, because it makes all other virtues possible.

He led with honesty and integrity. He said “We need leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity” Leadership is so often about putting others before yourself, looking after those around you, building them up, not so that you are elevated, but so that those you lead are elevated.

He led with character. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.” What that means is a shadow is something that is not consistent, it changes with sunlight, its position depends on differing angles and how you view it. The thing the shadow belongs to however does not change it stays the same no matter where you view it, no matter what the light.

He led with Hope and Optimism – One of the greatest examples of hope and optimism is the “I have a dream speech.” Where he spoke of his hope for a brighter future for his children and the Nation. I would encourage everyone to read or listen to it again. No one wants to be led by a pessimists, by someone who has no positivity for the future. Optimists are strong leaders. They find meaning in difficulties and hardship and find a path and a vision for the future.

He led with a sense of urgency, he knew the urgency of what he was trying to achieve, and he knew there was no time for complacency, no time to take a break from the goals and objectives, no time to leave it to the next generation. The urgency was fierce the time was now. Don’t be relaxed in your leadership role, be the hardest worker in the room, if you want to effect change, then lead with a sense of urgency.

He led with humility. I have not always led with humility, as a young leader I was far from humble, I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread! But part of leadership is reflection and learning from ones mistakes and I now have a strong belief that humility is the greatest quality of great leaders. C .S. Lewis said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less.” In these times of change, fear, injustice and pain we all need to think less about ourselves and more about others.

So within our leadership roles, be courageous, be honest and have integrity. Lead with character, hope and optimism. Lead with a sense of urgency and above all lead with humility. – Be a King

Have a great week everyone and remember:

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”   

Martin Luther King Jr