I once met the Reverend Jesse Jackson for an event at work. He gave a short speech and stuck around for some Q&A. As someone who marched side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I had to take advantage of this opportunity so from the back of the room, I asked,
“What’s one thing you learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. about leadership that we can all apply?”
Immediately, Rev. Jackson said,
“Martin Luther King Jr. led from the front.”
He explained that Dr. King led marches from the front. He was the first person to get arrested, (29 times in fact), and he was always the first in harm’s way.
In other words, Dr. King sacrificed himself before asking his followers to do the same.
It’s hard to imagine it today, but in the late 1960s, Dr. King was described by critics as an agitator, troublemaker, a rouser, a sellout, a radical, a communist, and many more colorful expletives even from African-Americans who did not support his views on civil disobedience and nonviolence.
But out of all those names, one stood out to me.
Using himself a model, Dr. King called people to live a life of radical love and service. Following in the footsteps of the radical he was named after – the German theologian Martin Luther (who sparked Protestant reformation with his “95 Theses”)—King would lead a reformation of the heart.
Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if he were still alive. However, I remind myself that it’s a waste of time to think about since he left us a simple blueprint to follow.
It’s so simple, in fact, we can easily dismiss it. It’s called Servant Leadership.
There’ll never be another Dr. King, but thanks to his blueprint there doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to lead a civil rights movement, receive a Nobel Prize, or be in a leadership position to make a difference or make an impact.
All you have to do is serve.
With the smell of death on the horizon — just weeks before his assassination–, Dr. King beautifully eulogized himself with these words,
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long… Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.”
When you listen to this talk the passion, clarity, and authority in his voice is so powerful you can feel it in your bones. And then as if needing to take his speech to the next level he says,
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others”
was a pastor, a Nobel laureate, family-man, a scholar, and a civil rights icon led from the front, but if you insist on labels use the one he settled for “a drum major for peace.”
So how do you want to be remembered?