Martin Luther King’s Lessons in Leadership

Beth Miller |

Martin-Luther-King

This is a repost of a blog done a couple of years ago. Enjoy!

As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many of us will remember his famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.  This speech demonstrated two critical leadership principles: Vision and Effective Communication.

Vision

As a leader, having a vision is critical to your leadership success.  It means declaring the state of your company’s future and what will be accomplished.  In his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins uses the acronym BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to refer to a vision statement.  A vision must be clear, concise, and appeal to those who are being led.  It must also define what success looks like, so when success is attained everyone knows when to celebrate.

For Dr. King, his vision, as declared in his August 1963 speech, was powerful and clear: that all people are created equal.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

Effective Communication

Effective communication is another necessary factor leading to great leadership.  Without effective communication, a vision will never have a chance to become reality.  The ability to clearly communicate the future and how it can be achieved is essential to great leadership. Effective communication must also provide consistent messages that are repeated multiple times. People are more likely to remember ideas they consistently are made aware of over time.

What would have happened if Dr. King chose to sit at home thinking about his vision and not sharing it with others through his many passionate speeches and his writing? Would his vision have ever been reached? I would still like to think so.  However, Dr. King would not be remembered as the great leader that he was.

Although Dr. King was clearly a great speaker and communicator, as a successful leader you don’t have to reach his level of oratory. What you do need to do is to be committed and passionate when you communicate, so that those who are made aware of your message believe in your ideas and vision.  The questions below will help you rate both your vision and your communications effectiveness.

Rating Your Vision

Do you have a vision, or BHAG, that includes:

1)     A clear picture of the future?

2)     A definition of success?

3)     A rallying point for employees?

Can your employees convey your company’s vision from memory? And do they know how the company will accomplish it?

If you are unable to answer “yes” to all the questions above, you may need to revisit your company’s vision statement, and/or create a communications plan for your vision.

Rating Your Communications Effectiveness

When communicating to employees, do you:

1)     Make the message relevant to the receiver (employee)?

2)     Ask employee(s) for their understanding of the message?

3)     Communicate the same message multiple times?

4)     Deliver the same message in multiple formats: verbally (phone, face-to- face), written (hard copy, electronic copy), and visually (pictures, graphs, charts, movies)?

If you are unable to answer “yes” to all the questions above, then you need to develop a concise message and determine a communications timeline for delivering your message using each of the communications formats in No. 4 above. Using multiple communications methods are important because different people have different learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinetic.  The more times people receive your message, the more likely they are to remember it and the more they will believe in it.

On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, celebrate his life by implementing the leadership principles of vision and effective communication that he valued and utilized into your own daily leadership practices.

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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