Leadership By Example: 7 Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Today, more than four decades after his death, the legacy and sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.&;s fight for freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity are being celebrated more than ever before.

As a testament to his contributions as a leader, visionary and hero, on Oct. 16, 2011, we witnessed the unveiling of the 30-foot-tall "Stone of Hope" statue of the American civil rights pioneer. The memorial is the first on the National Mall to honor an African-American and the first to honor a person who did not serve as president.

Much of my admiration is based on his courage, continual focus on excellence and commitment to lifelong learning. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left us with so many words and lessons that we can apply to evolve into a transformational leader.

[1] Articulate a Powerful Vision

Leaders communicate a concrete vision of the future with a clear call to action to inspire others to get there. People want to follow someone who they know is going somewhere. People do not follow leaders who don&;t care about their values, their wants and needs, or the hopes and aspirations of those in the organization.

Excellent leaders simply are not passive; they are active. They will challenge the status quo and not settle for business as usual. When there&;s a major challenge facing your organization, you must step forward to initiate new methods of getting things done to solve problems and ignite innovation.

[3] Be Courageous

Being courageous does not mean you&;re not afraid. It just means you care more about something else greater than what you fear. Don&;t be reluctant to take on new initiatives even if they may not pan out. Those who raise their hands climb the ladder faster. Courageous leaders do what&;s right, not what&;s easiest, and focus on the good of the many over the good of one.

[4] Leaders are Readers

Leaders are learners committed to the discipline of reading for continuous improvement. Feed your brain with content-rich information to stay informed about your competition, your customers and what is happening in the marketplace. The self-sacrifice of rigorous study offers valuable insights to differing points of view and builds character.

[5] Master the Art of Communication

Not all of us can be great orators, but we can enhance our communication skills by practicing, preparing and discovering our own authentic message. Use relevant stories and metaphors that bring to life the organization&;s mission, values and goals. Leaders who authentically speak with confidence and conviction can persuade action for others to go that extra mile in the organization.

[6] Walk the Talk

Actions speak louder than words. If your actions do not back up your messages, your lack of focus can become detrimental to your team and your career. People will respect and follow leaders who do what they advise others to do.

[7] Demonstrate Faith in People

Wholeheartedly showing someone you believe in him is the simplest, most powerful thing you can do to bring out his best. Leaders have faith in not only in themselves but others. The authentic leader readily acknowledges the commitment and hard work of her followers. When times are tough, people need to know that their work matters. An excellent leader listens to the ideas of the followers and responds.

Excellence and leadership should be the signature traits of all of us, street sweeper or president. To be an authentic leader, you simply have to act — to "lead by example."


The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

Elizabeth A. Bert

Executive Leadership Coach , Total Leadership Ventures

Elizabeth A. Bert, CPCC, is a international certified professional career coach, and Founder of Total Leadership Ventures, LLC., a strategy...


#1 The insights you shared truly

The insights you shared truly makes for an authentic leader, but I am particularly drawn to your last point which says that leaders must demonstrate faith in people. I believe that it is very essential for a leader to incessantly motivate his followers. Leaders must show, strong belief in the capabilities and potentials of his followers. This should be the primary role of a leader, to empower his people and make sure that he develops future leaders as well. This kind of leadership is selfless or what others may refer to as servant leadership.

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