As we honor Dr. King today, what do you remember most? To many, it was his vision of the world. To others, it was his stirring speeches. But overwhelmingly, everyone remembers his courage in one the most challenging times in American history. I’ve written several blogs about Dr. King’s life on my blog and how he inspired others to take bold action.
When I was thinking about what to write for this holiday, I decided to focus more on his ability to manage his movement than about his leadership abilities. Many serving leaders and founders of movements struggle more with one particular issue than any other. The issue is delegation and without it none could have had the sustained impact on the world that they had. All great serving leaders learn how to delegate early in their lives so they can accomplish more with their time here on earth.
After rereading Dr. King’s autobiography, I realized there are three key ideas that serving leaders must learn when it comes to delegation.
The first rule of effective delegation is to learn what not to delegate. Every great leader throughout history has learned there are some things they must do themselves. For example, we cannot delegate the tasks that use our strengths to others if we hope to make an impact on the world. When you read the biographies of great men and women, notice how they have a knack for being at the right place at the right time. The only way they can do this is by learning to make choices on what to delegate and what to do themselves, then act upon those choices. Delegation frees up leaders to do the right things, not the urgent things. They are crystal clear on what needs to happen and how to get it done in a way that is unique to them. Dr. King’s life has many incidents where he could have chosen an easier path, but he understood that he must serve as an example for his followers.
The second rule of effective delegation is to know how to leverage others’ strengths when growing your organization. The legend of the single minded individual overcoming all odds is false. The truth is, people who have great impact have learned to appreciate the gifts of others and provide them significant opportunities to use them. This doesn’t mean that they always use them the way we might want or expect them to. Great delegation means providing the goal and the support, but not the way to do it. If you learn to trust your people to do the right things, they almost always pleasantly surprise you. Strong leaders are not diminished by counting on others. They are energized by it.
Dr. King built a strong team of leaders around him because he knew it was the only way to sustain his vision after he was gone. He also realized early on that there were many things he could not do as well as others. He learned to delegate to others to make himself more effective as a leader. He was very aware of others’ gifts and was always looking for opportunities to strengthen them. He monitored their progress to make sure he was able to provide growth opportunities for the people around him. He made sure his fellow leaders where prepared for future opportunities to move their organization forward.
The third rule of effective delegation is to become effective at communicating your delegation. Today, leaders struggle to write out their wishes clearly. Good serving leaders are not afraid to delegate through all the different communications media. Reading over Dr. King’s instructions from Selma Jail to Movement Leaders (Carson, Clayborne, ed. (1998) The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., New York, NY, Grand Central Publishing, page 274) should be taught in our leadership programs across the country. Despite the terrible situation he found himself in, he was able use his delegation skills to continue to get things done. His advisors took significant action to keep pressure on the many different stakeholders across the county. His instructions were clear. He assigned specific tasks to be completed while he was jailed. He understood that during stressful times, people look for more leadership, not less. His simple messages must have provided confidence to his fellow leaders during this challenging time in the movement’s history.
As we close today, take time to think about Dr. King, not just as a leader but also as the strong manager who was able to inspire others through his words and grow his organization’s capability through his effective delegation style. If you want to know more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his life, you can find more information at The King Center.
See you here next week.