Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is among the best examples of transformational leadership that we have in the world today. His legacy of demanding justice for those that appeared to have no voice has influenced millions of people over the last 60 years. Speaking truth to power and relying on a moral code of conduct put his leadership impact on an unparalleled level in the United States throughout his life and beyond.
On this day when we celebrate his life, it is worth noting that lasting and influential leadership must be attached to some higher purpose, if it is to resonate beyond the moment. That purpose does not have to reflect any particular religious or spiritual perspective. But it does have to have people at the center of it.
Leadership, which requires strategic decision making, management and financial skills, cannot be divorced from the resulting impact it has on people, be they consumers, constituents or colleagues. And understanding one’s purpose makes the technical aspects of organizational leadership that much more meaningful.
King’s celebrated “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail” is a sobering reminder of the things we as leaders must consider when seeking to represent the interests of groups that are larger than ourselves.
Confronting contradictory facts and data, in the midst of trying to solve large problems can sometimes force trained leaders to rely on their technical acumen to achieve success. But, when faced with seemingly insurmountable limitations, focusing on the deeper purpose or “why” often steers visionary leaders to wholly new problem-solving solutions.
In the case of King, it was the combination of civil disobedience and moral conviction that changed the framing of the question about equal justice under the law in the United States. There countless other examples of how focusing on purpose and people have resulted in manifest change that helps people and organizations be better.
Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his contribution to the understanding of leadership and search for purpose that should be at the core of all leaders’ approach to leadership.