Picture of Martin Luther Kind, Jr in Washington, DC

MLK Jr. and Leadership

As many of you know, I’ve spent my entire career as a keen observer of leadership in action. Unfortunately, I have learned more about how not to lead than how to lead. Nonetheless, I think I am able to tell the difference between good and bad leadership.

Many people are not able to differentiate real leadership from abusive power, propaganda, or coercion. Many leaders either do not know, or have not learned, how to bring out the best in others by exhibiting integrity, character, civility, and courage. They also seem to struggle with demonstrating their commitment to the highest and best values. Even worse, some leaders talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They say the right things but do not live those spoken values.

Therefore, having just celebrated Black History Month, it seems pertinent to reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as an example of true and effective leadership.

Dr. King, a true servant leader, who led by the power of his example, demonstrated that moral leadership may be more important, and definitely longer lasting, than organizational leadership.

As a servant leader, Dr. King listened to the people others may have considered unimportant. When faced with a challenge, he looked for solutions that would benefit all. When something went wrong, he accepted the blame. When things went well, he shared the credit. He exhibited transparency by always being consistent in his messaging. He knew that he didn’t have all the answers, so he sought advice from others. He worked hard and inspired others to do the same.

Dr. King amply showed how courage, the ability to inspire, and the tenacity to succeed can overcome immense obstacles. He also practiced the humility and vulnerability necessary to evaluate his successes and failures, recognize his mistakes, and learn and grow from them.

Dr. King was an exceptional speaker and writer. These communication skills are difficult to master. I continually encounter leaders who lack a basic command of language and a clear and effective method of communicating. The ability to engage and inspire an audience should never be discounted as a necessary quality of a good leader.

Finally, Dr. King didn’t ask his followers to do anything he wouldn’t do himself or to take a risk he wouldn’t take himself. He was a true role model who took the ultimate risk and lost his life for a righteous cause and the betterment of others.

Thank you, Dr. King, for your legacy of courageous leadership that truly effected positive change in our society and our world.


Written by Hector J. Velez, Chief Operating Officer for Vector Talent Resources. To contact Hector you can email him at or call 703.639.2172.


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