5 MLK Quotes and What They Teach Us About Leadership

Written by: Trochia
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The month of January symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings, inspiring us to set goals and plans for the upcoming year. It is fitting, then, that America pauses in January to remember and reflect upon one of our greatest leaders, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As we turn our attention to the year ahead, lets take a look at five quotes from Dr. King and what they teach us about his legacy of leadership.

  1. True Leaders are Servants

If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
to his congregation in Atlanta, GA, Feb. 4, 1968

Dr. King is often described as a servant leader” because of his emphasis on valuing the needs and concerns of others, especially those working alongside him. Servant leaders do not view their role as being on the top of some organizational food chain; instead, they understand their position as being one of humble service to the rest of their community. Dr. King reinforced this idea when he said that everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” Equating greatness with service is at the heart of godly leadership.

The goal of servant leadership is to lift others above yourself, affirming the value of each person and seeking ways to bring out the best in them. As leaders, what might it look like for us to use our position and influence to put others first?


  1. Love is Our Strength

“Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Speech at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, AL, Nov. 17, 1957.

Following Jesus’ example, Dr. King personified the idea of battling evil with radical love and integrity. Though he faced extreme hate, he stayed true to his belief that love is the only antidote to hate. This guided how Dr. King combated hate during the civil rights movement. He leaned always on strategic acts of radical love, while never wavering in his intentions or backing down from his pursuit of equality.

As we think about the evils and hate that we face in this life, what would it look like for us to lead with the radical love of Jesus, like Dr. King?


  1. Unity is Vital

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Speech in St. Louis, MO, Mar. 22, 1964; in St Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 23, 1964

The civil rights movement—of which King was the figurehead—was not a singular group, but an amalgamation of organizations and leaders who tirelessly worked for social change. In preparation for the famous March on Washington, a coalition of six organizations came together for the demonstration. Though once divided—in disagreement about what the movement’s tactics, goals, and strategies should be—the group was united by Dr. King, who knew that in order to make the dream of an inclusive society a reality, we needed everyone to come together.

Learning to find the common thread that weaves our story together will help us as leaders to avoid being bogged down in the mire of disagreement. What might it look like to prioritize unity in our leadership, prayerfully considering what we might put down—even if just for a time—so that we might come together with others for the sake of a common goal?


  1. 4. Keep Moving Forward

If you cant fly, then run. If you cant run, then walk. If you cant walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Speech at Barratt Junior High School, Philadelphia, PA, Oct. 26, 1967

Dr. King was no stranger to adversity during his fight for civil rights. He was arrested over twenty times, stabbed, threatened, and lost his house after it was bombed. Yet, he persisted, knowing the immense importance of his work. While our leadership trials and tribulations might not be as severe or extreme as the ones Dr. King encountered, we all have battles in our lives as leaders. Remembering the value of our work, even as we take the tiniest of steps, will help us in times of distress.

Where are you struggling to move forward in the work God has called you to? How might remembering the value of your work help you to persist even through difficulty?


  1. See the Bigger Picture

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Dr. King understood that we are deeply connected beings, woven together in an inseparable human experience on this earth. Though King did fight specifically for the rights of Black Americans, he understood that his mission for equality must have a far greater reach. When it comes to injustice and oppression, none of us can afford to stand on the sidelines. Jesus gave us a similar charge when calling us to care for the “least of these” in Matthew 25:31–46.

Where in our lives as leaders might God be calling us to care for those who are being mistreated, forgotten, or oppressed? How might we use the influence of our leadership to bless those facing injustice?

As leaders and followers of Christ, how might we maintain a posture of humility and love this week—and beyond—that echoes the leadership exemplified by Dr. King?