Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is arguably the most influential, captivating, and important leaders of the 20th century. His accomplishments, both individual and those with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, paved the way for racial equality not only within the United States, but around the world as a whole.
Though it's no secret that he was a great man and brilliant orator, he was not the only leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Many came before him and many continued on after him, but his name is the one we remember.
So what made him such an influential leader, and what can you learn from him in order to become an influential leader in your own life? The secret lies within MLK's leadership style.
1. KINDNESS AND FRIENDLINESS
We like people who treat us with respect.
Humans are social animals and in order for our social interactions to feel good, they need to be worthwhile. The best way to do this is through kindness and friendliness. It creates a sense of trust and is crucial to become an influential leader
MLK had a knack for that. This is exactly what his entire movement of non-violent protest was based on, and it's the exact reason why we now look back on him rather than individuals like Malcolm X who were in favor of using violence.
In the first 1:14 of the video below you can see this in action. MLK walks into the room and begins by shaking the hands of both men while making sure to give them a big smile and look them in the eyes. Once all 3 men take their seats, they begin by making a few jokes and sharing laughs. This sets a relaxed mood and builds a mutual connection before focusing on the serious issues.
2. TAKES TIME WHEN SPEAKING
Have you ever noticed someone speak much faster when in a group, faster than they would in a 1-on-1 conversation? This is because they felt the need to get their point across before losing the interest of everyone in the group.
When we feel that others aren't listening or that we only have a certain amount of time to keep their attention, we begin to speak faster. But in reality this is counter-intuitive. The faster we talk the less likely someone is going to genuinely listen.
When you slow down and take you're time while speaking, you force the other person to listen intently to what you are saying.
Leaders do this. They take their time and make people listen. Sometimes they even add in pauses to build tension. The combination of these two things helps keep people more focused on what they have to say. Implement this in your own life and you will undoubtedly become an influential leader.
MLK's slowed speech can be seen throughout the interview with Merv Griffin.
3. SPEAKS ARTICULATELY AND INSIGHTFULLY
Toward the end of the Merv Griffin Show, MLK finished by taking answers from the audience. One particular audience member insisted that people who were opposed to fighting the Communists were treasonous, and asked for MLK's opinion.
Instead of simply firing back in disagreement, MLK used articulate speech and great insight to explain his stance. One of his most insightful perspectives is that many of those who are opposed are not traitors, but rather individuals who have a deep love for their country and hope to see it go down the right path and be on the right side of history.
This can be see from 3:44 until the end of the video.
4. HE HELD STRONG BELIEFS
Had it not been for MLK's strong belief in racial equality and his genuine love for all mankind, he would have not become the man that he was.
It takes a very strong belief system to stand up to the sort of injustice and hatred that was so commonplace in the Jim Crow South. To stand up to the violence, both verbal and physical, in order to fight for what he believed in.
Being the center of the Civil Rights Movement put him in a very unsafe position and this is ultimately what took his life, but it was his beliefs that helped the world change toward a better future. He sacrificed his own well-being so that others could have better lives.
That is arguably the most important aspect needed to become an influential leader. It's not about your own self interest but rather for the interest of the whole. It's a willingness to love and care for those around you even if it puts you in a bad position.
5. A GREAT ORATOR
Apart from being articulate and well spoken in general conversations, MLK was a fantastic speaker. His most famous speech, I Have a Dream, is regarded as one of the greatest speeches of all time.
It wasn't simply the words that he spoke, but the way that he spoke them.
He would begin by gently flowing through his speech, while at the same time emphasizing particular words. He would build tension in his speech by a gradual increase of intensity that rose to a peak of great emotion. The crowd would hang on his every word. They would shout in agreement and approval as they slowly aligned with what he was saying.
In order to become an influential leader you must to be able to unite groups of people, and being a great speaker is one of the best ways to do that.
6. DRIVEN BY LOVE
As I mentioned earlier MLK had a deep love for all mankind. This is why we remember him more than any other leader during the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of separating groups, he worked to unite them.
A close second is Malcolm X but there's a simple reason he never reached the same level of influence, he was driven by hate.
When we focus on fighting those who have hurt us we simply create a stronger opposition. Fighting against someone can never make them respect you, because when you hurt them back it only makes them want to hurt you more. It's a cycle of hate.
It's easy to react with strong emotions when someone has hurt you, but it's much harder to take a logical stance of peace and non-violence. To stand up to the opposition in a dignified and respectful way.
This is real strength. This is leadership and it's crucial in order to become an influential leader with the stature of someone like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.