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Leadership Thought #367 – Be Authentic and Honest In Your CommunicationFree Stone statue of leader of civil rights movement in Washington DC Stock Photo

Donald T. Phillips, in his book, Martin Luther King on Leadership, does an impressive job of providing significant details as to why Martin Luther King (MLK) was a great leader.  We often focus on the rhetoric and powerful speeches that he gave, but there is so much more substance to the man than just what he had to say. Many civil rights leaders were talented with their rhetoric, but only one had the full package of leadership skills to profoundly change a nation’s attitudes and its laws.  I took away the following points from Phillip’s book about MLK and his gifts as a leader:

  • He was exceptional at tailoring his rhetoric and communication style to fit the needs or particulars of a given situation.
  • He was a highly active listener and was diligent about striving to understand individual motivations and the rationale behind different points of view.
  • He was an unusual student of human nature and knew how to connect with people in a positive and non-threatening manner.
  • He truly led by example, and never asked his people to do anything he wouldn’t do himself and he literally put his life on the line for the cause he believed in.
  • He was a talented grassroots organizer who had an uncanny ability to get groups of people focused and acting on a common cause.
  • He was an amazing alliance builder and could stitch together strategic coalitions that were critical to what he was trying to achieve on a regional and national level.
  • He was a skilled negotiator and managed to win many incremental battles along the way by being fully prepared and compromising as needed to keep things moving in a positive direction.
  • He was a determined goal-setter and planner and was very disciplined about putting the important pieces in place that would lead to goal achievement.
  • He was a staunch advocate of creativity and innovation and was always looking for a better and more effective way to get things done.
  • He was a tireless learner who never stopped pushing himself to grow his own capabilities and the skill sets of those around him.
  • When he had to be, he was incredibly decisive and made the tough decisions necessary to move the agenda forward, even under extremely difficult circumstances.
  • He had incredible emotional strength and while some of his peers allowed themselves to succumb to emotional triggers and got sidetracked by personal attacks, he was able to rise above the fray and stay focused on his mission.


I have always believed that the United States has been blessed with incredible leaders at certain points in our history.  Martin Luther King is certainly a prime example of this.  At a time when our country was in social and political disarray and struggling to come to grips with our past, present, and uncertain future, he stood up and led us in a way we needed to be led.  He pushed our nation to reexamine and live up to our core principles and values.  He appealed to our better natures, both individually and collectively. He was the rare breed of nonviolent revolutionary who ended up sacrificing his own life for a cause he deemed greater than himself. We are all fortunate today that he was such an exceptional leader at a critical time in our history.