20 Favorite Leadership Quotes From Martin Luther King, Jr

Once I heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak when visited our office.  At the end of his talk, there was a  short Q&A so I asked, ‘What’s one thing about leadership that you learned from Dr. King that we can apply in our lives?’

Without wasting a second, he said, “Dr. King led from the front.”   

 On Martin Luther King, Jr day, it’s common to see his image and quotes all over the web and TV.  But as I see his image I’m reminded of what leading from the front means.

One of the common themes throughout his photos and talks is that in nearly all of them, he’s leading a protest, he inspiring an audience, or he’s the first to get arrested.  Dr. King was a servant leader who never asked his followers do something he was unwilling to go through first.

Below are my favorite quotes by Dr. King. Initially, my goal was to stick with a top ten, but it was impossible to leave out so many great quotes. 

  1.   I have a dream.
  2.  There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.
  3.  Almost always the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way. 
  4. A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. 
  5. Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
  6. Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
     
  7. Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others. 
  8. Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
  9. We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.
  10. People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.
  11. No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.
  12. If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
  13. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.
  14. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?
  15. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.
  16. All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.
  17. Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.
  18. Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.
  19. Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great because greatness is determined by service… You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
  20. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

One of the things that I love about leadership is that regardless of how much times passes by or regardless of the latest advances in technology these principles will always apply.  I wonder what the world would be like if more of our world leaders lived by these principles.

Do you have a favorite quote?

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