Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on which we take time to celebrate Dr. King’s life and groundbreaking work. In addition to honoring him, we can learn from his legacy as a leader. Here are four leadership lessons from Dr. King:
Know your cause
Dr. King knew his cause. He had a vision and he strived to make it a reality. His cause was fighting for civil rights and his vision was even bigger. He imagined a completely integrated society…a community of love, justice, and inclusion.
Clearly define what you stand for as a leader. At least write down your core beliefs, even if you’re unsure of your cause. Ensure your organization has a specific cause for employees to identify with. If you find it’s difficult to define, meet with other leaders to create a clearer vision.
Get comfortable with discomfort
It’s very evident that Dr. King led during an incredibly dangerous time for vocal civil rights advocates. It takes a lot of courage to be comfortable with tension, anger, and violence. Each of these things were results of the change that was ensuing, so he had to learn to sit with it. He never would have been able to see meaningful progress if he’d stayed comfortable.
Going out of your comfort zone can help you and your organization grow immensely. While it may not be dangerous like it was for Dr. King, it can be scary. Get used to putting yourself through some discomfort from time to time as a leader. While sometimes it may lead to failure, there are other times it will lead to great successes.
Tell the unarmed truth
Dr. King believed in speaking the truth. He spent years shedding light on the discrimination and oppression Black Americans were suffering. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” And he was right – The truth had the last word and brought meaningful and lasting change.
Don’t be afraid to speak the truth as a leader. To your boss, to your peers, to your employees and beyond. Sometimes it can be difficult but lead with honesty and open communication. It’s the best way to create an inclusive environment in which people stand up for one another. Plus, it’s how you’ll get people to follow you as a leader.
Live out your beliefs
Not only were Dr. King’s beliefs clear, but he also lived them out and fought for them daily. He filled his schedule by speaking, preaching, strategizing, organizing, and leading others. It’s through his actions that his message came to life and left a major impact.
Actions speak volumes for leaders. Don’t just tell your employees what you believe and are working towards. Follow through and demonstrate that you’re actually living it out. You’ll inspire them to do the same plus start seeing results through your efforts.
We don’t all have the opportunity work on a noble cause like Dr. King did. But that doesn’t mean our causes aren’t worthy of pursuit. Small causes still contribute to our society as a whole. Whatever you do, do it with passion and action just as Dr. King did.