On this day celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I took the time to pause and reflect on his legacy. I wanted to see how his life offered lessons for me personally as an individual and an expert in personal branding. So much can be said about the importance of the man, but I found myself focusing on a few, specific lessons he taught me.
The Power of Telling Stories
As a man of the church, raised in the tradition of using allegory to reach his audience, Dr. King excelled at telling stories. He elected to convey his message with examples, which made his point clearer and helped stimulate the empathy of the listener. A personal story has an enormous impact, and it should be used as a communication tool. Of course, there is a strategy to the use of stories, and care should always be given to consider selecting the right story for the message. This ability was one of Dr. King’s incredible strengths. His ability to paint a picture and transport the audience was profound. The words we choose matter…every single word carries meaning and power.
“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
The Ability to Engage Peacefully
Taking on one of the most divisive, controversial topics of the times, Dr. King lived his belief in the power of peaceful resolution. Following in the footsteps of Gandhi, he acted, using non-violent techniques to obtain a peaceful outcome to a dire and violent status quo. In my everyday life, I don’t come near to the challenge that Dr. King faced, but I am inspired by his approach. When an interaction is confrontational; when I disagree – strongly – with the opinion of the other person; I think carefully about how to create a positive outcome. I do not want my interactions to devolve to a fight. I believe respect, dignity, and growth can be achieved through peaceful engagement. One of the most important challenges of our time is to engage with those who differ in opinion, belief, background and get closer to them so we may all have more empathy and understanding.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Clear “Why”
In the course of his work and his life, Dr. King made his message clear. In all his communications, he set forth his purpose, the basis for his beliefs and the reasons he called for action. Such clarity helped inspire thousands to join the civil rights movement. In making my own decisions, expressing my opinions and taking positions, I strive to understand the Why of my actions and make sure that the answer is clear to others as well. If we are focused on a purpose bigger than ourselves, that can move mountains and motivate us each day to be intentional and strive for change.
“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
The Ability to Take Action Despite Fear
Fear can hold all of us back from action. Dr. King embraced his fear and acted in spite of it. His particular courage in the face of threats and actual retribution serves as a model for us to remember. The incredible events that occurred with his leadership may far outstrip the challenges we face in our lives and our work, but they serve as a model for the power of moving beyond fear into action. Although I must say, it seems like we live in a very pivotal time.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
The Ability to Love not Hate
Even when I am frustrated by leaders or people I know, even when my beliefs and my way life feel threatened, I must always remind myself to say no to hate. Hate is a race to the bottom. The inability to listen to others is a race to the bottom. I used to coach individuals to avoid religion and politics – which I still do. However, for me, I found that I wanted to speak to use my voice and to let others use theirs (provided it was respectful). If we cannot use our voice to discuss our most basic rights and beliefs – are we being true to who we are as individuals? For me, the answer was no. I believe we need to build bridges and specifically do so with those who have different beliefs, backgrounds, and life experiences.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King is one of the most singularly inspiring individuals in our history. His words and actions brought about fundamental changes in the hearts and minds of the nation. While there is so much more to his legacy than these brief thoughts, I think it speaks to the breadth of his impact that he serves as a model for each of us in our own lives and work. Here are a few recommended books on Dr. King, Jr., put together by Time last year in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his death.
We could all use more Dr. King Jr. in our lives – his storytelling, his belief in peace, his clear mission, his bravery, his call to love, not hate. Even now when I hear him, decades removed, his voice moves me to be better, to believe more in myself, to believe more in others, and to dream.
Be a dreamer and a do-er,
Jen Dalton, CEO of BrandMirror, has over 15 years of experience in strategy, marketing, and coaching. In 2012, she made a gutsy move into the entrepreneurship space, launching her branding business and became a certified master personal branding strategist. She specializes in building your digital thought leadership on LinkedIn and other social media. You can find her bestselling book, The Intentional Entrepreneur, on Amazon, which highlights how business owners can leverage their personal brand to grow their business faster.