5 Martin Luther King Jr Leadership Style Axioms

There were other civil rights leader during his time, but it was Martin Luther King Jr. who was the most conspicuous and eloquent among the bunch. His leadership style is deeply rooted in speeches and, thanks to the television, he became an omnipresent inspirational speaker. He is renowned for his “I Have a Dream” speech that he made in August 1963, during the civil rights march on Washington.

He was undoubtedly the champion of African Americans, inspiring them to fight their way through white oppression using non-violent call to arms. Despite the lack of complete and total trust on his leadership style, many of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did during such tumultuous times are something leaders of today can learn from. Although his leadership was always being questioned even after his death, there is little doubt that he had the charisma and power to rally people behind a single cause and achieve the goal he set for himself during his lifetime. Otherwise, his dream would have been for naught.

He is believed to be a transformational leader based on the decisions and steps he took to see his visions through. To help us better understand the comparison, let’s take a look at the four components of transformational leadership.

  • Idealized Influence is when a leader serves as a role model who not only walks the walk but also walks the talk. And he’s greatly admired because of this.
  • Inspirational motivation refers to a leader’s ability to motivate and inspire his followers. Combined with idealized influence, inspirational motivation constitutes charisma.
  • Individualized consideration is when a leader shows genuine concern for the needs and feeling of his followers by giving them personal attention.
  • Intellectual stimulation involves challenging followers to be creative and innovative, constantly pushing them to reach higher levels of performance.

Much of Dr. King’s ways as a leader is evident in his most memorable speech, I Have a Dream.

Martin Luther King Jr Leadership Style

1. He clearly communicates a concrete and powerful vision.
Dr. King Had a dream which he clearly articulated to his followers, giving them clear call to action and inspiring them to share his vision and to show support. This is one characteristic that made him quite popular. People want to follow someone who has a clear direction of where he is going or where he’s taking his followers. People want someone who cares about their values, needs, wants hopes and aspirations.

2. He shows courage even in the face of threats and real danger.
Nearly everyone is vulnerable during civil rights struggle. Those with the upper hand will oppress the weak, which can lead to anger and retaliation. But Martin Luther King Jr had the courage to face the risks and pursued non-violent call to arms. He did not show reluctance or even wavered when threats was thrown his way. What is even more impressive is that he encouraged others by telling them cold hard facts and by not sugar-coating reality. Through his speeches, he told his followers the reality of the situation no matter how painful it may seem.

“But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.” – Excerpts from “I Have a Dream”

3. He is the master in the arts of communication.
Martin Luther King Jr is one of the greatest orators of our time. His communication skills are nothing short of impressive, especially in the way he delivers the message, moving heart through his words. Not everyone may achieve his level of communication skills, but a good leader will work hard to enhance to perfect his own skills in effective listening communication. How else can leader convey his visions clearly if he lacks the ability to communicate well? It is very easy to persuade action from others if a leader can authentically speak with great confidence and conviction. Part of effective communication is learning how to tell relevant stories and metaphors.

4. He showed faith in his followers’ abilities and openly acknowledged them.
In his speech, Martin Luther King Jr said, “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

The very act of showing someone you believed in him will have the power to bring out the best in someone and encourage him to do more and work harder. When times are tough, knowing that their work matters will motivate people to do better and give more.

5. He’s not afraid to disrupt the status quo.
While some people are fine with the way things were, Dr. King did not want to settle for anything less than equality. It would have been easier for him to just negotiate a compromise, but he didn’t.

“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

He realized that doing something completely different is essential for evolution and innovation, and he did succeed in shaking up the popular culture of the time. Thanks to his stubbornness, change did happen for the better. This only shows that a great leader would never accept things as they are, even if they are working fine. So, as an aspiring leader, think about how you can shake up the status quo in the business or industry that you are in find a way to set new standards in the way you do things and in your life.