Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.
I met with several people in Dr. King’s inner circle. They included Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Ralph David Abernathy Sr., Jesse Jackson, and James Meredith. Each had a different perspective on Dr. King but I believe each can help us better understand the man who changed our world so much.
The first thing you notice about all the people around Dr. King was that they all were leaders in their own right, any one of them could have stood on their own as a leader of the cause. They were all courageous and possessed a confidence about their unique contribution to the bigger cause. They knew their strengths and were very confident in what they believed about the direction the country was going. Serving leaders build strong leadership teams. They surround themselves with the best people available, not people who always say yes.
I met Coretta Scott King first and she set the tone for the sacrifices Dr. King had made for his cause. She took on the mantle after his death but also played a critical role during the most challenging parts of his life. She was a very independent person and very effective at giving Dr. King the grounding all serving leaders must have. She provided support and protection during the civil rights movement’s most critical times. She took care of issues of family and church while her husband was away. Serving leaders need good strong partners if they hope to challenge the world’s biases.
Andrew Young provided Dr. King with the political and legal skills required to keep the movement going. Not such an easy task when you’re challenging society’s values. He rose to become the US Ambassador to the United Nations where he continued using his hard earned negotiating skills to get things done on global basis. He also shared a side of Dr. King that is seldom thought of, which was Dr. King’s sense of humor. I also think Andrew Young helped Dr. King remain connected to the man that was loved by all in his inner circle. Andrew Young help Dr. King share his sense of humor. Serving leaders possess a great sense of humor.
Ralph Abernathy Sr. provided Dr. King with a trusted confident during the challenging times when he needed one. He possessed a longer view on the movement and Dr. King saw him as a person who could help keep his dream alive. He was a solid advisor who could keep things moving when Dr. King was in jail. I think it’s hard for most people to realize how difficult these times were. Today’s serving leaders may be incarcerated for 24 hours or less. Dr. King spent several weeks in jail with limited support to make his point. The hardships and attacks were not only from the people he opposed but people in his own movement that felt his strategy of non-violence would not work. Serving leaders need people who support their causes, but are not afraid to challenge them when needed.
Jesse Jackson provided Dr. King with someone who was as passionate and inspired as he was about the potential of the civil rights movement. He needed a man who could inspire others with their shared message of equality and liberty for all in our society. Jesse Jackson also extended Dr. King’s coalition to include a wider range of people in our society. He has reached beyond our American borders to influence global events with his passion and charisma. Serving leaders need people who can build and expand on the foundations created by the movements’ founders.
The final person in Dr. King’s inner circle I met was James Meredith. He spent the least amount of time with Dr. King but had a lasting impact on the movement. He was a peaceful warrior who made the decision to push the US government to get his rights granted. He had been shot and survived. He was the only Republican in this group. He understood that political power could increase the speed of change in our country. He believed education was a right that every citizen should have access to. He was the first black student at the University of Mississippi during the sixties. The Kennedy administration had to have US Marshalls protect him during the initial days of attending the school. Serving leaders believe advanced education is critical to sustaining a movement over generations and changing current culture.
These several people changed the way I saw the world when I was in college. Each challenged me to become more involved in my community. They forced me to look at the injustice in the world and to understand that if you are given great strengths and opportunities you must be willing to use them to make a difference in the world. Serving leaders strive to make a difference in the world and are thankful to earlier generations who helped build a bridge to the future for themselves and their children.
Yesterday we spent the day celebrating a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is certainly one of the most influential men in world history. He was a rare combination of visionary and implementer.
How did Dr. King accomplish so much in his life? I believe there were three key secrets to his effectiveness that leaders can learn to help promote their causes. I think there are more but I believe that these three will take you life to the next level.
The first secret is he was an incredibly gifted orator. He understood how words moved people and used moving words. He spoke simply and did not use jargon or hidden meanings. His words were targeted to his audience but permitted others to understand where he stood on key issues. His “I Have a Dream” speech appealed to his core audience while also permitting others to embrace his vision for the world. He tapped into a theme that resonated with others, our children. His ability to make complicated issues simple was unmatched. I believe that part of his gift came from his education and his heritage. He had experienced many things in life before he developed his unique world view. We all would be well served to allow our past to communicate our future. We also must be able to communicate through an easily understood teachable point of view.
The second secret was he understood the power of seeing himself as a leader of a movement. This movement would go beyond his life. To make this work, a leader has to empower others to share in their own unique way. However he put a strong foundation in that included many other great men like Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, James Meredith , Ralph Abernathy, and, of course, Coretta Scott King. He shared his principles with all of these individuals, but allowed them the freedom to be their own unique individuals. It sounds easy but if you ask any leader what their biggest challenge is and you will find equipping your team with a sustainable message that resonates both with the person and the movement is very hard to accomplish. I’ve interviewed and photographed all of these persons over the past 30 years and was struck by the strengths and differences of each. It takes an amazing person to be able to hold together this type of team. Dr. King was a man who saw himself as leader of something larger than himself. He shared a teachable point of view and then allowed these individuals to craft a message from their own biography. The other lesson critical lesson here is don’t be afraid to surround yourself with strong and opinionated leaders. They will help build a lasting legacy.
The third secret was his unlimited energy. Dr. King had an endless supply of energy for his cause. He was unrelenting in crafting his strategies and then worked tirelessly for results. When you realize the physical and emotional stress Dr. King lived through you realize how much energy and drive this man must possess. For most people, when we are under stress we require more rest and time to work through more difficult problems. In Dr. King’s life, he was faced with daunting decisions on a daily basis. He understood the magnitude of these decisions and still made the right decision almost all of the time. I believe that this was because he understood the power of prayer and small amounts of meditation. He spent time reading the Bible and found rest in its passages. I’ve known many religious leaders over my life and found that many of them find rest in their spiritual books. I’ve discovered that most high energy people find a way of channeling their energy into what they love and believe. Don’t take time investing in small things that don’t move you. Invest your time in ideas that will make a difference. In this way, you can be a leader more like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. every day.