You know, I wasn’t always a history buff. In fact, I think I barely got a B in my American History high school class because I was so. Bored. In fact, fellow students and I would play a little game where we counted the number of the times our teacher uttered the phrase “that of” during one 90-minute class. I’m pretty sure the reigning number was around 56.
So it’s no wonder it took me a decade after graduating high school before I even wanted to pick up another biography. And even more recently, engaging TV shows like NBC’s “Timeless” have rekindled my appreciation for history, and seeing historical figures as real people who had real ideas and used whatever influence they had to change the world forever.
Which is what Martin Luther King Jr. did.
This past fall, I had the opportunity to meet Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, when she came and spoke at a fundraising dinner I was attending. I was fascinated with her experiences as a younger family member to such a great man in history, and yet one who knew him as simply Uncle M.L.
In her book, “King Rules,” Alveda draws from her memories of what she learned not only from her uncle, but the other members of the King family who left their mark on her. And as I read, I thought about how many of these truths can be applied to business as well. So here is a short list of principles drawn from the example of Martin Luther King Jr. that I believe fit neatly into the business world as well as everyday life:
1) Think about others first
Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for his staunch belief in the value of every human, regardless of any other factor. He grew up in a close-knit family where his father was adamant about the family gathering for dinner together each night, and subsequently learned that human relationships are an integral part of who we are. He lived his life treating those around him with respect, equality, and peace, not just some stepping stone to get where he wanted to be.
2) Understand your own value
MLK Jr. recognized his own talents and skills, and drew on them in influencing those around him for good. He was a skilled orator with a natural charisma that easily drew people to him. Video producers in the media industry today are also influencers, storytellers of our era. Stories that can educate, inspire and motivate. Like MLK Jr., it’s important to embrace what you’re good at and use your gifts to do what you are passionate about.
3) The key to success is hard work
Martin Luther King Jr. was dogged in his determination and steadfast in his focus. He worked long hard hours and accomplished more than any one man should have been able to because of his passion. His cause wasn’t just a job, it was a revolution. And because of his determination, he made great strides in doing something that is nearly impossible: changing the way the majority of people had thought for centuries.
The Kings also understood the value of earning money for your family and being financially responsible. Alveda remembers her granddaddy, Martin Luther King Sr. as saying, “Always have something in your pocket, and I don’t mean lint.”
4) Break all the rules
One thing that made Martin Luther King Jr. different from others with the same goal is that he went about it peacefully. He chose sit-ins over violence, he encouraged silence over angry words, and he advocated for change instead of just accepting that “this is just the way things are”. His father even changed Martin’s name.
According to family lore, his name was originally written down by his mother’s Caucasian midwife as “Michael Luther” because she thought to name him “Martin Luther” after the famous Reformation preacher would be “too fine for a Negro boy.” Yet his father, “Big Mike”, Martin Luther King Sr., who was also named “Michael Luther” at the time, went to the courthouse with his son and changed both their names, taking hold of the choice of name that had previously been denied them.
5) Never stop learning
In “The Purpose of Education,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” Critical thinking means to both analyze and evaluate to form a judgement. True thought leaders, innovators and influencers are naturally curious, learn for the fun of it, and enjoy considering new information.
6) Don’t abandon your integrity
MLK Jr. went on further in the same writing to say, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” There have been plenty of examples in history of people who were intelligent, brilliant in fact, but who used their intelligence in such a self-serving way that they actually damaged their country, not bettered it.
If you’re looking for a great movie to watch during these cold winter months, I highly recommend “Waffle Street” on Netflix. It’s the true story of Jimmy Adams, a hedge fund VP who loses his job after his company uses him as a scapegoat and ends up as a waiter doing “good, honest work” and how he fights to provide for his family. Here’s the trailer if you want a sneak peek:
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
p.s. If you want to hear what my voice sounds like, click here for my demos