Studying a Leader: Changing a Culture or How MLK Influences Business
It is very easy to forget and not recognize the power that certain leaders have had over history. Growing up, I knew who Martin Luther King was, I knew what he was associated with but I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of his power and influence. When I entered college, my understanding slowly grew as I tried to relate to his ability as a leader. My freshman year was also the last year that Penn State did not observe this holiday, the following year PSU closed on his holiday and celebrated with presenters and speakers, two of whom were LeVar Burton and Maya Angelou. As I sat in the audience and listened to their experiences and the influence MLK had on their direct families and loved ones, my eyes started to open up and really see what his presence meant throughout the 1960’s in America. At that, it became important for me to study him and what made him great. The greatest take away from my studies of Martin Luther King resolve in the following: intelligence, self confidence and excellent communication skills and the ability to embrace uncomfortable and vulnerable situations.
Intelligence and Communication
Martin Luther King received his PHd from Boston University, studying systematic theology. It was likely during his time at BU where he recognized and understood the power of words, the power of being eloquent and the ability to relate to people of numerous walks of life. He studied leaders of history and recognized that for him to change an entire culture, he would need to educate and prove prejudices wrong through powerful speech and even more powerful actions.
These are character traits that are incredibly difficult to develop. Being a public speaker immediately puts you in the spotlight, it puts the leader under a microscope. As an entrepreneur, communicating to employees can be just as difficult as communicating to clients, let alone communicating to an entire society that has centuries of prejudices built into their genetic code. These are aspects we need to consider when analyzing his leadership capability and prowess. He was able to communicate his goals to his support team for well over a decade. He was able to communicate his goals and ideas to people who wanted to join his movement and influence them to stay as non-violent as humanly possible. Through positive communication, he was able to completely change a culture, through excellent leadership qualities that all leaders need to study, from business leaders to sports coaches and even political leaders.
MLK consistently put himself in uncomfortable situations as a leader and sadly this is what ultimately lead to his assassination. The biggest thing I have learned from studying his decisions and guidance of the sub-culture that was the civil rights movement is that he consistently embraced engagements and discussions with people who were the polar opposite of his beliefs. However, he would always learn from those situations, he would adapt from the engagements and constantly make progress as a leader and that is what lead to his rise in power.
He used faith in the most powerful way, he used words to control a large contingency to believe in him and constantly communicated a clear cut path to achieve his goals. He engaged bigots and racists to alter their beliefs of his race and he improved his engagement methods. Conflict is hard to embrace, learning from conflict can be even more difficult. MLK looked for conflict and attacked it with the most positive methods possible. He educated not only his “enemies” but also educated his own team and his own followers on better ways to educate BOTH sides of the fight. These are incredible attributes that made him an incredible leader and someone that we all can learn from.
By studying his own people and studying the culture of what he wanted to change, he established incredible self-confidence. When a leader has a well educated viewpoint, maintains clear cut goals, communicates those goals to all individuals properly and then learns from conflict, it makes for an absolutely incredible leader. These are aspects I attempt to bring into my own life as a father, a strength coach, a throws and weightlifting coach and as a business leader. I find it difficult enough to communicate goals with my own children and my own employees, let along change an entire culture by the young age of 39! Lessons from MLK have to be remembered and instituted regularly to ensure constant progress toward a unified cause.
Check out our MLK podcast: https://youtu.be/7IoVlKROado