Tony DeMeo


Martin Luther King Jr. on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips

Some men are great leaders and some are heroes. You can be a great leader and not a hero, but Martin Luther King Jr. was both. Martin Luther King Jr. was a hero because he gave all he could give without expecting anything in return. He was not one of these so-called leaders or activists that get rich while “helping” the poor. Martin Luther King Jr. helped all the poor without profiting himself.

Donald T. Phillips has done an outstanding job of bringing together the philosophy of leadership of a man who was the force behind the civil rights movement in America. Phillips is an outstanding writer who has penned other excellent books on Leadership. I’ve also read and enjoyed Lincoln on Leadership which delves into the leadership style of arguably our greatest President. Phillips also wrote Run To Win which outlines the leadership of one of the greatest football coaches of all time: Vince Lombardi. Phillips does a great job on these books as well as Martin Luther King Jr. on Leadership.

Phillips disuses King’s approach to leadership:

  1. Set goals and create a plan of action. King never rushed into things but his actions were always well thought out. He knew weapons wouldn’t change the hearts of men.
  2. Create alliances.  King formed alliances with other civil rights and political leaders.
  3. Involve people. – He held mass community meetings. Involvement leads to commitment.
  4. Seek dialogue and negotiation – He felt growth comes through pain and struggle; it’s not an easy road.
  5. Innovate – During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he arranged for car pools and other means of transportation so they could still earn money. He clearly thought outside the box

Plato said “Only those who do not seek power are qualified to hold it” Martin Luther King Jr. was a man dedicated to his cause, he had no hidden agendas. He did not seek riches, fame nor power. He was about persuading through non-violence and was a devoted follower of the greatest leader in history: Jesus Christ. He felt non-violence would weaken his opponent’s morale and win his understanding. He could never do this with force. Above all King always preached: ”Never let them take your spirit”.

Some other great points I got from this outstanding book were:

  1. Care about those you lead. I always asked myself about a player:  is he really benefitting from the program?  Am I adding to hi development? People don’t follow leaders who don’t care about them.
  2. Lead from the moral high ground. Have courage regardless of the consequences. Courage is contagious.
  3. Listen without an agenda.
  4. Set goals, establish a detailed plan and then take action.
  5. Learn from setbacks and then move forward. Have faith and be optimistic.
  6. Practice what you preach.
  7. Get many short-term victories to create momentum. Every coach knows this also builds confidence.
  8. Always look to do better. There is always room for improvement.
  9. Build a team by building relationships.
  10. Be the best person you can be regardless of the situation. Always improve yourself first.
  11. Leadership must be principled and value-based.

Martin Luther King Jr. will always be an example of a leader who led without an official position, who put his cause above himself and truly made a difference.

This book is filled with many great examples of Dr. King’s principles of leadership. Phillips does a great job of simplifying many of the thoughts Dr. King used in breaking through the amour of racism in the United States. This is a book will not only benefit coaches but also teachers, business leaders, parents and just about everyone. I strongly recommend this book, I know you’ll benefit from it.