4 Leadership Lessons From Dr. King
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4 Leadership Lessons From Dr. King

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January 12, 2016

By Joel Peterson, United Way Staff

In a 1964 BBC interview, after some prodding, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. predicted that a black person would be elected president in 25 years or less.  Although that did not happen during his timeline, his vision needs to be celebrated.

How could a person whose existence was saturated with discrimination, injustice, and oppression ever visualize a country being led by the oppressed? How could he have such hope in humanity when he had a myriad of reasons to doubt it? This is why Dr. King is one of the greatest American leaders ever. He clearly articulated a vision of what America should be, and was never derailed by what our country actually was. On January 18, we will celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., and why millions followed him, with the same hope for a better America.

The 1960s are known for many things, but none more important than the civil rights movement. During that time our country was torn apart by racial tension, and what America needed was a leader with a clear vision and priorities. Dr. King was that person. He knew what he was doing and - most importantly - what needed to be done.  

Fast forward to present day, and although America has come a long way on some of those issues, there are so many more areas that are still filled with tension. This is why the annual observance of this holiday is so important to me. When I think about the issues my 4 kids (3 black boys and 1 girl) will face growing up, I am inspired by Dr. King’s legacy to do something better. I am inspired to fearlessly stand up and lead within my sphere of influence. I am inspired to be consistent with my leadership no matter how laborious the task may become.

In my humble opinion, you cannot truly observe this holiday by doing nothing. If you are excited just to have a day off of school or work, then you have missed it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is to be celebrated with service to others, or by working on your vision. 

I have learned so much about leadership from Dr. King’s legacy. These are four lessons I will hope to pass along to my children:

  1. Lead without fear of consequences, and if you feel fear, embrace it and keep moving forward.  
  2. Lead others around you to a cause bigger than themselves.
  3. Lead because it’s the right thing to do.
  4. Lastly, and most important, articulate a powerful vision. Dr. King courageously answered a call from fate, and because of that, millions of other Americans will forever be filled with gratitude. Thank you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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