A higher standard of leadership learning from Martin Luther King Jr.
by Harold Torrence
Leadership is a very complex concept that has been studied from ancient times to today. Even so, humanity has not yet overwhelmingly embraced a particular leadership model. The body of knowledge and the number of extraordinary leaders in the history of humankind is enormous, which makes trying to define leadership through multicultural lenses a titanic endeavor.
However, it is feasible to start learning from the life of someone who has been recognized by the world as a global leader, one with the heroic mission of creating a truly multicultural society. Such a leadership example can be found throughout the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a legendary transformational leader who changed history by creating and communicating a vision of a genuine multicultural society in the United States. Dr. King eloquently communicated this vision in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on Aug. 28, 1963.
To learn more about King’s legacy and core values, we need to examine his most important speeches and essays. His leadership framework will emerge in any attempt to understand the most important statements that shaped a guiding coalition dedicated to fulfilling the dream of a true multicultural society. One of the best resources for analysis is “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” edited by James M. Washington, who brilliantly compiled Dr. King’s most crucial writings.
King was a leader capable of creating a tremendously effective coalition of women and men who decided to stand up and fight for their human dignity. The civil rights movement did not happen overnight. It was the result of hard work and sacrifice. Ultimately, this historical movement was made possible due to the support and commitment from people of different races, cultures, religions and ages. Through their differences, they were united for a novel and common cause.
King explored in depth the concept of love and its Greek definitions, which are four: agape, storge, eros and philia. However, King emphasized the need to experience and give the most attention to the highest level of love – agape. “Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men,” he wrote. “It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative.”
Moreover, individuals must first love themselves before they can love others. In this regard, King talked about self-respect. “We have a great opportunity in America to build here a great nation,” he wrote, “a nation where all men live together as brothers and respect the dignity and worth of all human personality.”
This vision statement is grounded on the concept of mutual respect, and this respect must start with the individual self. Individuals must respect themselves before they can respect others. The complexity of the human personality can only be understood if we have the willingness and courage to respect the dignity inherent in the life of every human being.
To overcome hatred and ignorance, leaders must develop morality as a vital core value of their leadership style. Self-worth and agape love are at the center of every individual experience in the vast realm of humanity. If we want to become true leaders in a multicultural society, we must possess these attributes. Fundamentally, we must develop a higher sense of spirituality to understand the highest purpose of life, which is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is easily the most difficult and highest standard ever reached by a human being. It requires completely removing our egotistical human nature and replacing it with the unlimited power of love.
Once you create a strong foundation based on agape love, morality and spirituality, you will gain a higher sense of self-respect and dignity with the discipline and courage to make the right decisions and take action. This is a lifelong process and, more than likely, each of us will experience some setbacks and some success.
Leadership is about taking action. This holiday season is the perfect time to demonstrate agape love to one another as we work together to embrace a better future.
Harold Torrence is a supervisory management instructor at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount.