What makes a person an effective leader? This question has been interested the scientists for many centuries. Leadership is not only great deeds, or the power of a man. It lies in the daily activities and is available to everyone. Throughout the world history, there were many great leaders who have changed the history course once and for all. Martin Luther King was one of them since his ideas influenced millions of people. People with charisma are always great speakers, masters of word and gesture. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) is the most famous African-American Baptist preacher, an outstanding speaker; the leader of the movement for civil rights for blacks in the U.S. King actively campaigned against U.S. colonial aggression, particularly in Vietnam. For the important contribution to the democratization of American society, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This great leader was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.
It should be said that he was a man of destiny who had risen to the heights of social consciousness and spiritual awareness. Those people who followed Martin Luther King Jr. speeches trusted this outstanding leader implicitly. His audience had full confidence that King would be the person to put a stop to segregation and discrimination.
To say that Martin Luther King was a great leader is to say absolutely nothing. His innate ability to lead was reflected in many things: he wrote books, organized marches and peaceful protests, as well as boycotted authorities. His life was in danger numerous times because of fanatics’ attempts. For his beliefs, King repeatedly found himself in jails. In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail King stated:
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.
King began as the leader of the bus boycott (1955-56), which occurred in Montgomery, December 1, 1955, prompted by the arrest of African-American Rosa Parks. The poor woman refused to give a seat in the bus for a white person.
In 1956, racial segregation on city buses was proclaimed unconstitutional, and that, ultimately, ended the national policy of racial segregation in public transport. Encyclopedia Britannica relates that his status as an American icon became more widely accepted over time. As the result of these actions, The Act of Law was created and approved by Congress.
According to the traditional standard of American political views, King was unearthly, disembodied leader who believed in Christian love. Opponents of the union of blacks and whites arranged a true hunt for the black speaker, preacher whose performances gathered many thousands of people. In 1958, during one of his speeches, Martin Luther King was stabbed. King was taken to hospital, but after the treatment, he continued agitation. The newspapers wrote about him, the leader was shown on television; King became a popular political figure, the leader of the black population of all the states. In March 1968, during the speech in Memphis in front of the participants of the demonstration, King was going to keep disadvantaged Americans in Washington while he was shot. This shot was fatal. It was a big loss for the American society. Black Americans have lost their loyal defender who dreamed of an equal country and gave his life for it. Peter Ling (2003) confesses that “when King died, the non-violent movement seemed unable to continue without him, and this deepened the impression that he was its essential leader.”
Under the influence of King’s speeches, people decided to take part in acts of civil disobedience and protest against the violence. Unarmed citizens were confronted armed police. Martin Luther King was able to touch the innermost emotional chords in each of his listeners. It did not matter whether the listener was black or white. It did not even matter whether the person was extremely poor or from the middle class.
Similar to Gandhi, King proved that, indeed, “a wise thought is stronger than the sword.” Due to his activity, the social revolution occurred in the American system of race relations.
King had a great experience of preaching. The richness of voice modulation, emotional enthusiasm and energy of speech served him well at the pulpit and at the microphone in the meeting room. He also skillfully used nonverbal modalities. Anger, compassion, pain, joy and other feelings sounded in his voice and were reflected on his face in full compliance with the spoken words.
Like other great orators, King believed that his speech must be simple and clear for the audience. Martin Luther King Jr. used a kind of “biblical jargon”, skillfully woven into the speech quotes and stories from the Bible that directly affected the hearts of the most myriad part of the audience – the faithful people. Also, he used aphorisms and the catch phrase of famous priests and popular politicians, such as John F. Kennedy. Thus, he created and strengthened in the minds of people the associations between the known notions that have long been positively evaluated and his own new ideas. King repeated the key phrases for several times and encouraged the audience to join him in chorus to confirm their acceptance.
At the same time, Martin Luther King realized that the most of the audience already shared his views and goals, and he knew how to use this knowledge. In order to do this, in the phrases reflecting his personal beliefs and expectations, he substituted the pronouns “I” and “mine” for “we” and “ours.” It gave everyone the opportunity to feel as the member of the most important social movement and inspired audience to the actions.
King competently managed his listeners. One of his “crown” techniques was using of carefully designed pauses that allowed the shocked people to understand slowly the meaning of what it was said. After that, here and there in the crowd, contagious encouragements were heard. It is likely that, under their influence, even the doubters began to express approval of the ideas of this outstanding leader loudly. He gradually increased tone achieving the approval of all of the growing generation.
Due to the unique ability to inspire people with his ideas, King managed to receive the sympathy in his struggle for civil rights in the African-American community. In his speeches and sermons, he emphasized the common things that united him with the students and members of his movement. These common things were the faith in Christian traditions, and U.S. citizenship – that is, belonging to the nation that considers itself as a symbol of belief in personal freedom. The professor of Harvard Business School Rosabeth Moss Kanter (2010) relates:
King called for people to stand in the light of creative altruism rather than the darkness of destructive selfishness. His words were in the tradition of President Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.
The widely known speech of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream has been proclaimed during the march on Washington in 1963 at the foot of the monument to Lincoln and was listened to about 300 million Americans. In this speech, he praised racial reconciliation and said: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
King re-defined the essence of American democratic dream, and it sparked with new spiritual light. According to Kanter, King felt that racial justice would help everyone achieve his or her potential because investments in education are the underpinning of civil rights. His dream was that his four children would someday be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. These views gave him moral credibility outside his movement.
In conclusion, it should be said that, on the one hand, it is almost impossible to give a precise definition of the concept of leadership because of the complexity of the notion. Leadership consists of various qualities, characteristics, components, skills and even undefined elements. For this reason, the leadership will always be a kind of a mystery. On the other hand, the study of the concept of leadership has been exploring for more than two thousand years – the study of what the leadership is and what makes a person a good leader provided people with a huge mass of knowledge, information and examples. A leader always serves for people; he provides leadership for the good of the people. He will never insist on the right to lead but rather will take the opportunity to serve people by his abilities. One should earn the privilege to lead people gaining people’s trust. The role of King in nonviolent struggle for the enactment of a law that destroyed the remnants of racial discrimination was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As a politician, King was a truly unique figure. The words, wisdom, dreams, deeds and commitment were intertwined with the noblest of human aspirations in Martin Luther King Jr. Like many other famous thinkers, Martin Luther King demonstrated the attributes that went a long way to help change the lives of millions of people. His performances (some of them are now considered as the classics of oratory art) were dedicated to achieve the equality by peaceful means.