Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is one of the most well-known advocates of non-violent resistance for social change. In the light of new studies, it in fact shows that his ideals are rooted in authentic African-American cultural traditions that were further developed by his education. The favorable image that he gained as an exceptional social rights activist and a leader is largely aided by his education, strong values, ethics, and mostly his character. In this essay, we are going to look into the skills, traits, and behaviors that he possessed which made him the great transracial leader that he was.
From Dr. Martin Luther King’s character and his approach to leadership, it is evident that he adopted the transformational leadership theory to win over millions of hearts all over the world and continue to win them over even after so many years of not being on this planet. Transformational leaders inspire people and bring the best out in their followers through communicating a shared vision. They are highly empathetic, righteous, self-aware, and understand the needs and desires of their people ( Fentiman-Hall, 2017).
Dr. Martin Luther King inspired people to fight for civil rights in America through non-violent protests while the whole world was ready to fight for it with or without violence. It is quite mind-blowing that an ordinary middle-class man like Martin Luther King changed the world and became the de facto leader of the civil rights movement in America. Dr. King was able to touch millions of hearts and move them to act in a way that only a few others in history ever could.
Dr. King’s leadership traits and behaviors are still very relevant even in today’s world. We are in need of his non-violence resistance now more than ever with all the international conflicts that are going on in the world today.
Dr. King’s steady leadership throughout the challenging era of civil rights proved transformational for his followers as well as several others across the globe even decades later. Dr. King had mastered 3 essential skills that led him to be the exceptional leader that he is known as. Firstly, he was highly empathetic (Thompson, 2018). He made it his top priority to understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of his people. He spent time talking with people regularly in order to understand the circumstances and challenges they were facing, either formally through town hall meetings or informally with impromptu conversations with his people. He participated in the protests alongside his followers as one of them. This is what made people feel like he really cared and this is one of the major reasons that made them follow him.
Secondly, Dr. King had given continuous importance to education and he strived to become what people would call “a lifelong student” (Thompson, 2018). He even learned non-violent resistance, which is what he is mainly known for, from the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi’s success in India. His time spent studying and learning are what truly helped him seal his legacy as an exceptional leader. Dr. King acknowledged this fact by saying that Gandhi’s ways were the “guiding light” of his technique of nonviolent social change. (Thompson, 2018) Dr. King’s way of learning and educating himself shows us that every idea could lead to success and does not have to be original. It can be learned from others and it can be inspired by others.
Thirdly, Dr. King was always ready to speak up even when it was not convenient (Thompson, 2018). He was able to communicate effectively even in challenging situations. An example of this would be when he called out eight of his clergy fellow members who had advised him to postpone the civil rights demonstrations in the city. Even when his enemies bombed his home, King requested his followers to stay focused and work towards their vision and goal. Dr. King was faced with many situations where most leaders would have just given up, however, he stayed true to his end goal and addressed it to his followers even above his own comfort.
What made Dr. King’s journey so successful as a leader was the effectiveness of his behavior towards his cause and his people. He was the perfect example of a simple principle called, “Start With Why”. (Sinek, 2014) He did not go around speaking about detailed plans for how to change civil rights in America. Instead, he spoke about his cause, his beliefs, and his vision of a world where all people are treated equally and justly. He connected people with a purpose that was far greater than themselves.
Dr. King also exemplified the epitome of character, which is the hallmark of a great leader. He was committed to doing the right thing for the greater good, regardless of the personal costs to him. His character not only inspired his followers but his antagonists as well. He led by example and it sparks something in you when you see a leader deep in the trenches walking side by side with you to accomplish a goal. Through this behavior, it taught leaders of today the leadership lesson to model their behavior in a way that others would want to live by.
One thing that will leave anyone that listens to his speeches or reads any of his books in awe is his use of words. His words were so strong that it compels and convinces you to want to take action. It takes you to a place where you can imagine a better future for yourself and the world. He made his life-long learning come to life by story-telling and helped people see familiar topics in a whole new light. However, this did not just happen magically since he spent several days writing and editing his speeches until they sounded just right (Thompson, 2019).
Some of Dr. King’s traits that made him so powerful included the fact that he was intelligent. He used his power in an intelligent way to influence his followers (Traits of a Leader, 2016). Dr. King was very educated having a Doctorate from Boston University in the field of Philosophy in Systematic Theology. He used his education to good with his strong verbal ability. His “I have a dream” speech still lives on to inspire many even today.
In addition to this, Dr. King’s self-confidence is what led people to believe in him and trust in him. He taught the leaders of today that if you are confident in yourself and your actions then you can earn the trust of others (Northouse, 2016). Dr. King, as a leader, was confident enough to make the right decision at the right time, which eventually drew people towards him. He was confident that he could lead the African-Americans to be treated equally one day. He did not let any enemies of him or anyone that opposed him stop him from bringing his vision to life.
Dr. King’s determination towards his goal was what truly made his dream come true in the end. His determination, drive, and passion inspired others to follow him (Heroes, 2018). Even during the most challenging times, when he was put in prison, his determination stayed strong and he continued with his journey towards equal rights. This determination that he had was why this movement proved to be so powerful. In the end, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr paid the ultimate sacrifice in his fight for freedom when he was assassinated by James Earl Ray in Tennessee. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and his legacy lives on through a national holiday, public buildings, and schools named after him. If Dr. King was not determined enough he would not have achieved everything that he did (Traits of a Leader, 2016).
Hence, it is quite evident that Dr. King used a transformational leadership style and theory to win over the world. He challenged the status quo just like any transformational leader should and encouraged his followers to explore new ways of doing things. This is proved by the fact that he challenged the state of segregation and injustice, paving a new pathway for democracy and racial justice. He compelled the whole nation to see the world through the eyes of an African-American person and see their everyday struggles. He also challenged the negro men and women to go rally together and protest which was not something they were used to. This resulted in taxi and rideshare programs which helped the African-Americans gain momentum and make their statements. Dr. King showed us that sometimes doing things that are completely different from what we are used to, is what brings out innovation (Redziniak, 2016).
Secondly, transformational leaders are known to give support and encouragement to every individual follower. Dr. King was a pastor and had a great passion and bravery for being able to speak the Christian ideals to a population that only knew violence as an answer for violence. Dr. King continuously held rallies and events where he spoke to his followers and encouraged them while also empathizing with their struggles. He convinces his followers that violence, even for a cause as big as that, was not just and went against what they were fighting for. (Redziniak, 2016).
Thirdly, articulating a clear vision and goal to their followers is what makes someone a great transformational leader. Dr. King did a fantastic job at this through his “I have a dream” speech where he shared his dreams with millions of people. This speech, to this day, is one of the greatest speeches of all time. This speech did not just inspire and motivate his audience to achieve his vision but also continue to inspire anybody who listens to it or reads it to achieve their dreams (Redziniak, 2016).
Lastly, as mentioned before Dr. King served as a role model to his followers which is the most obvious characteristic of a transformational leader (Rezdiniak, 2016). He did not just encourage his followers but he also participated alongside them. All of these reasons prove the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King was an exceptional transformational leader. He continues to be memorialized through thousands of parks, buildings, statues, streets, and schools around the world, as his leadership and teaching are still more than relevant to the progress of humankind.