Create a Great Leadership Team Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King Jr. embraced a team approach to leadership.

Dr. King Jr. embraced a team approach to leadership.

What made Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. such a powerful serving leader? Can we use the same principles he used to help impact our world today? During the 1980’s, I was given an opportunity to interview his wife and several of his closest associates about what they felt about the civil rights movement and what made Dr. King effective as a man and as a leader.

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.

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