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The Leadership Style And The Characteristic Traits Of The World’s Symbolic Leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Dr. Ernesto Guevara

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This paper examines the leadership literature of two symbolic leaders. I begin by spotting the light on the early life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Ernesto Guevara, followed by the start and development of their career. I briefly examined the role they played without an official title as a leader and the influence they had on their constituents. I then analyzed their leadership style and characteristic traits of two different approaches based on leadership theories. Finally, I questioned the impact of the Marxism ideologies and the ancestral origin of both leaders and how it contributed to making them, leaders.

A Transformational Leadership Style of Martin Luther King, Jr

Life and career of Martin Luther King, Jr

Martin King was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. His birth name was Michael King, the son of the Reverend Michael King Sr. His Maternal Grandfather Pastor Adam Williams was of African Irish descent. His father had a great influence as a pastor on people who attended the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he used to preach. The number of attendees would rise a few hundred to several thousand. In 1934, Martin’s father was sent on a missionary trip to some countries including Germany. It coincided with the Protestant reformation movement lead by the Priest Martin Luther. It was also at the rise of Nazism that held practices of racism against people of different races. Influenced by Priest Martin Luther, Pastor Michael king returned to the states and started referring to himself as Martin Luther King, Sr., hence, his son as Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1951, King graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Crozer Theological Seminary. In 1955, King received his Ph.D. degree in systematic theology from Boston University. In that year, the famous Montgomery bus boycott occurred and King was a committee member of the Birmingham African-American community which investigated the incidents which led to 385 days of a boycott led by Dr.King himself and planned by Nixon.

That incident which resulted in arresting King made of him a national figure known for fighting for equality and heading civil rights movement. When the Vietnam War started King has opposed the United States interference and stated that it was a waste of money and resources on war instead of using that money to vanish poverty.

In 1960, he was arrested for protesting at the Atlanta department store, however, charges had been dropped soon. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to prison for an earlier traffic offense which had nothing to do with the demonstration and which had enraged population until the interference of John F. Kennedy as a Democratic Presidential candidate.

Three years later King was jailed after a demonstration against segregation where he wrote this letter that echoed widely: “You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marche,s and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” Martin Luther King, Jr., 2020

That same year, 1963, King had his famous speech “I had a Dream” in which he said: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

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.” Martin Luther King, Jr., n.d. In 1964, King received the Noble Peace Prize in Oslo. “I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind,” King said. The Letter from The Birmingham Jail, 2020

Even though he had got overwhelmed by the fact that no change was indeed happening, King kept finding against racism and led many civil rights movements until the day before he was assassinated on August 4,1968, by a white man.

King’s Transformational Leadership style

‘In story and myth, leaders are often lonely heroes and itinerant warriors, wed only to honor a noble cause”. (Bolman & Deal, 2017) King was born and raised up in an environment that could do nothing but influence him to lead. He is an Irish descendant raised by a pastor who was himself an influencer in his own community and on the follower of his church.

Nevertheless, those factors can not be detrimental to make anyone be a leader. King was a Marxist who believed in quality among all people regardless of their beliefs, colors, or origin. There were the Marxist ideologies as well as the academic religious background of systematic theology which shaped his beliefs and concepts. In addition to the incidents which occurred and released the rebellious Irish trait in him.

Hence, King had a vision for a better future. Many were released portraying King as; “…. a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.” Martin Luther King Jr.,2020 This per se is an essential trait in transformational leaders. Being critical with clear plans which consider even the smallest details as an important add on for a major setback.

Although, this was not mentioned so often, King possessed high emotional intelligence skills. King’s inspirational leadership and his speeches helped to transform a local protest over bus seating into a historically important event. Without having those skills King would not have been able to keep up with all the disappointments and failures yet find the strength to stand up, again and again, to fight and motivate people.“ The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.” (Dollard, 2018)

Determination is also a solid trait in all leaders. Determination revolves around setting goals to achieve their dreams and their vision of the future. Finally, communication style including the way they speak, the confidence in their voice as well as their body language. King was able to make people be touched by his words and create that charismatic spell on his audience including his opponents.

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The Charismatic Leadership Style of Che Guevara

Che Guevara

Dr. Ernesto Guevara was an Argentine physician yet a well-known figure of the Cuban revolution. Guevara was born on June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina. As a young man, despite suffering from asthma, Guevara was very athletic who excelled in many sports such as golf, swimming, shooting football as well as cycling which was part of his journey as an activist. He had also interests in literature and was touched by the work of many poets and authors from all around the world including Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jawaharlal Nehru that he was described as “ Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino.” (Che Guevara, n.d.) by a CIA biographical and personality report in 1958.

In 1948 Guevara decided to enter medical school to study medicine at the University of Buenos Aires. He also wanted to explore the world at that time so he intermixed that period with some road trips cycling throughout some Latin American countries including Peru, Panama, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia as well as Miami in South America sharing all Hispanic Latino heritage and united issues such as poverty, famine, and lack of medical treatment causing uncured diseases.

In 1953, Guevara became officially “Dr. Ernesto Guevara” after receiving his medical degree. Later he realized after more trips to Latin American countries and getting in close contact with people and labors that in order to help those people being a physician was not enough. He thought joining the battle through the political arena was the only way.

As he was in Guatemala, he joined president Jacobo Arbenz Guzman’s initiative of land reform and it was at that time that he met some Cuban exiles linked to Fidel Castro. At that period, the name “Che” which is a sort of spoken interjection used in Argentina, hence, Che Guevara. When president Guzman’s regime was overthrown, Guevara related it to the United States spreading Imperialism in Latin America and developing countries. As a result, Guevara decided that it would only be fought by armed revolution.

Next was Mexico where he met both Raul Castro and Fidel Castro with other Cuban exiles and joined the 26th of July Movement to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. He received his training for guerilla warfare. Soon he was promoted to commander by Fidel Castro. He was known to be extremely strict when it came to disciplinary orders yet very educative and entertaining with his men that he would teach them and read some poets to them during breaks. He “had great moral authority over his troops’ (Che Guevara, n.d.) and had a “tendency toward foolhardiness’. (Che Guevara, n.d.)

Such remarks were not only stated by his chief commandant. Even those fought under his commands were touched by his character. “Che was loved, despite being stern and demanding. We would (have) given our life for him.’ (Che Guevara, n.d.) Guevara has not only led political campaigns but also economic as well as literacy campaigns. This led him to acquire the position of Finance Minister as well as the President of the National Bank, although, none of those positions mattered to him as to bring class distinction.

In 1965, Guevara suddenly disappeared from the public to nowhere until Castro received a letter written few months before his disappearance stating his well to give up all his positions in Cuba and fight for another revolutionary cause somewhere abroad.

Later, he was found to be in Congo with an intention to lead the revolution among African countries. Although warned by Gamal Abdel Nasser that his idealistic would not work in Africa, Guevara insisted on moving on with his mission. In 1965, despite all his trials with the troops, Guevara stated that it was a failed mission. ‘The human element failed. There is not well to fight. The [rebel] leaders are corrupt. In a word … there was nothing to do.’ (Che Guevara, n.d.) He elaborated ‘we cannot liberate, all by ourselves, a country that does not want to fight.’ (Che Guevara, n.d.)

In 1966 he arrived back to Bolivia establishing his guerilla force named the National Bolivian Army of Bolivia. Despite achieving several successes against the Bolivian army, the year followed he was captured by the Bolivian army. He kept imprisoned in a schoolhouse in a village for few days then was executed upon orders from the Bolivian President Rene Barrientos.

The Charismatic Leadership Style of Che Guevara

Again, as mentioned earlier, it is obvious that Guevara who also had Spanish Irish origins with later developed Marxist ideologies held some rebellious traits to change and fight for a cause for the good of people.

The difference, however, is that Guevara was more generic, and his fights were at times considered unstudied and unplanned well. Although, he too was surrounded by great leadership influence such as of Castro’s, he was rather more poetic and emotional with his attachment to any cause. It is a certain fact that Guevara’s physical appeal had a charismatic spell over people who he had encountered. A day before his execution at the schoolhouse where he was imprisoned, he asked to meet one of the village’s teachers to inform her that the school needed to be rebuilt to provide a better pedagogical environment for children. The teacher stated later that she could not but to agree and promise that conditions will change as she was caught by his look,”. agreeable looking man with a soft and ironic glance”. (Che Guevara, n.d.)

Nevertheless, being a leader with charismatic traits played a great role in creating positive change in people’s lives all over the world because he believed in equality and providing a better life for all people in different aspects not only politically as a nation but also economically and educationally. 707,212 adults were able to read and write after his successful Cuban Literacy Campaign in 1961. “Guevara was like a father to me … he educated me. He taught me to think. He taught me the most beautiful thing which is to be human. – Urbano (a.k.a. Leonardo Tamayo), who fought with Guevara. (Che Guevara, n.d.)

Along with having a true vision to promote change within people, a charismatic leadership style is enhanced by certain other factors including strong self-confidence, persuasive skills, and a high social sensitivity perception. In the case of Guevara, the latter trait helped him tremendously with leaders abroad such as of Singapore and Japan who were too anti-imperialist.

Upon his death, people declared that Guevara’s corpse was prophetical with a “Christ-like’ look.


Leadership is a mutual concession. Being charismatic and eloquent can make any leader’s vision or dream to be accepted and adopted by people. However, unless a leader can oversee and understand what his/her constituents need and their concerns then find a way to merge both, no leader can ever standstill.


  1. Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2017). The context of leadership. In Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
  2. Che Guevara. (2020, July 26). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from
  3. Dollard, C. (2018, July 26). Emotional Intelligence Is Key to Successful Leadership. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from
  4. Lewis, D., & Carson, C. (2020, July 27). Historical significance and legacy. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from
  5. Lewis, D., & Carson, C. (2020, July 27). The letter from the Birmingham jail. Retrieved July 29, 2020, from
  6. Martin Luther King Jr. (2020, July 29). Retrieved July 29, 2020, from

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The Leadership Style And The Characteristic Traits Of The World’s Symbolic Leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And Dr. Ernesto Guevara. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
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