Martin Luther King’s Leadership Legacy Lives On

Kouzes calls Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech one of the best examples of a shared vision

Editor’s note: In honor of Martin Luther King and his great vision for our country,  I am updating this post on Leadership. When you think of an important leader in your life, who comes to mind? According to Jim Kouzes, co-author of the Leadership Challenge, the top vote getter isn’t some political leader or entertainer, it’s a parent or other close relative followed by a coach or teacher. We are well acquainted on a personal level with the leaders in our lives. Kouzes was a guest speaker at East Tennessee State University last week and I had the opportunity to hear him speak.

He shared five practices of a leader:

  1. Model the Way
  2. Inspire Shared Vision
  3. Challenge the Process
  4. Enable Others to Act
  5. Encourage the Heart

1- Model the way: He sited a CEO of a company who started his presentations playing the piano. He said it helped people to understand who he really was at heart. His life’s dream had been to be a concert pianist. Then Kouzes posed the question: Do the people you lead know who you are, what you care about and why they ought to follow you? Be sure you first define your values/prinicples and what you believe in. “If people don’t believe in the messenger they won’t believe the message,” said Kouzes. Take Action: What have I done today that demonstrates the values that are near and dear to me?  (per Lillas Brown.)

Jim Kouzes speaks at an E.T.S.U. College of Business and Technology event. Courtesy: ETSU Photo.

2- Inspire a Shared Vision: Kouzes talked about the power of painting a picture of a better future and he used Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech as one of the best examples of our time. “Dr. King didn’t say ‘I have a corporate strategy.'”  Kouzes added “Have an image of a place you’ve never been and let people see themselves in the picture.”  Take Action: It’s the year 2022: Answer the following: What have we built together? What’s your vision?

3- Challenge the Process: Historically leaders have had to deal with changes, crisis, uncertainty and adversity. Sometimes it happens to us and sometimes we initiate it. One way to improve; at the end of each meeting spend 5 minutes de-briefing: How did we do? What can we do better? He mentioned the study that details the 10,000 hours and ten years of practice needed to make someone an expert. He urges leaders to have “out-sight” not just insight. Take Action:  What have you done to improve this week so that you’re more effective than last week?

4- Enable Others to Act: Leadership is not a solo act. It requires team work and trust. Use “we” more than “I” when you speak and listen for that in others. The more we trust the more we’ll risk.Take Action: What can I do in this moment to make others feel more powerful, competent and able to do more than they can?”

5- Encourage the Heart: Finally, he asked how do we develop leaders for the future? “Stay in love.” It gives us the fire to ignite and inspire others. His positivity magic ratio: at least 3:1 (Three to five positives for every negative and give even more positives at home where we already know we are leaders!) Take Action: “Love ’em and lead ’em.” Kouzes said.



  • Sarah Rowan says:

    I like #’s 4 and 5! I have learned so much due to the guidance of wonderful leaders as mentioned in number four. Encouraging your own heart as well as others, as mentioned in number five, helps to keep the positive cycle going for our own generation and those to come!

    • maryellen says:

      Thanks Sarah. I very much appreciate the attitude of love in #5. Amazing that we as family members are huge leaders in our own right but don’t think of ourselves that way.

  • Love this topic – leadership has such a strong pull – these five practices are great – so important not only to model the Way and inspire Shared Vision but to also be the devil’s advocate and challenge the Process not just accept the status quo.
    In particular I applaud encourage a guy for suggesting that we should lead from our hearts – this is something you see in many traditional cultures that the western world has lost – bring it back!!

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Good stuff … right? But of course you knew I would say that. I was scheduled to be there. But I didn’t attend as I was doing something else that I believe is important for us as individuals; taking some time for me. I suppose this would be part of his number one of the five. Anyway, the last days have been both torrential and wonderful … and I’ve a few days to go. Thanks for sharing these Mel since I could not attend.

  • Sue Painter says:

    I have long thought that there is almost no better speech than the “I have a dream” speech that Dr. King delivered. To this day it causes shivers down my spine. These points are great!

    • maryellen says:

      I completely agree that Dr. King’s speech is one of the most memorable. It was interesting to hear the speaker’s take on it. Dr. King helped his audience look into the future.

  • Bill Painter says:

    I like number 3 “Challenge the process”. One sad thing is that when I was in corporate, if we spent five minutes debriefing every meeting we would come to the conclusion that most of the time spent was not productive.

  • Linda Pucci says:

    I really liked these–all are necessary and oh, so true. I especially like the idea of the leader inspiring others to be more powerful and competent. For me that captures the part of leadership that I like best–encouraging others to be their best. Thanks for sharing this, Mary Ellen!

  • Tiffany says:

    Great tips in this article. I was just talking to one of my guest speakers, JoAnna Brandi, about the positivity ratio on Wednesday. It works even if you’re leading a company or team of one. Positive self-talk is powerful too.

  • Sue Painter says:

    It does me good to review MLKing’s visions and speeches every year. Thanks for this reminder of his vision and legacy, too.

  • Bill Painter says:

    These are still timely attributes. I think no matter what the time frame, leaders are always going to be facing changes, crisis, uncertainty and adversity.

  • Fantastic points, Mel. Numbers 1and 2 really stand out to me because they lay the foundation for the rest.

  • I think if more people followed #1 “Model the way” the world would be a much better place!

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