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.