Research Paper: Dr. Kings Leadership Style

Pages: 5 (1715 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Leadership  ·  Buy This Paper

Dr. King's Leadership Style

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has an enduring legacy in American history as a passionate preacher who was also a very effective Civil Rights leader. He is well-known for his stirring oratory and for his powerful advocacy for justice, and two of his most famous presentations are critiqued and evaluated in this paper: his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and his rousing "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C,. Those two presentations are perfect examples of the kind of leadership King demonstrated, and they are ideal examples for this paper.

Dr. King and his Efforts for Justice

The middle-to-late 1950s and early 1960s was a time of great social upheaval in the United States. Without going into great detail vis-a-vis the Civil Rights movement, it is worthy in the sense of providing context to briefly note that African-Americans were demanding an end to segregated schools, segregated drinking fountains, hotels and restaurants, and to the darkness and cruelty of Jim Crow policies in general. (the current popular film, "42," depicted very accurately the hatred directed at African-Americans -- specifically directed at Jackie Robinson when he broke the "color line" and began playing Major League Baseball.) and black leaders were out to change demeaning and unjust rules that required blacks to move to the back of the bus so whites could sit in front. One of the most powerful leaders in the movement for justice was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Where did his inspiration come from? He was a minister before he got involved in social change, and hence much of his inspiration came from the Bible and from the life and messages of Jesus Christ. His style of conducting protest marches and sit-ins -- using nonviolence as an effective way to draw attention to injustices and demand change -- was inspired by the strategies employed by Indian Nationalist Mahatma Gandhi. King understood that using violence would only beget more violence. And he insisted that other black leaders of marches and demonstrations teach their followers how to be nonviolent even when bigoted Southern law enforcement officials like Bull Conner turned vicious dogs loose on innocent citizens who were simply embracing their constitutionally-guaranteed rights to redress grievances.

The "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and "I Have a Dream"

It should be noted at the outset of this paper that the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (hereafter referred to as the "Letter") was a specific response to Southern clergy who used the media to question why King would break the law to make a point. In a way the "Letter" called out clergy members who preach about Christianity but turn their backs on injustice when it comes to black Christians demanding fairness and justice under the Constitution. But unlike the "Letter," in which he made no specific demands, the "I Have a Dream" speech (hereafter referred to as "Dream") was full of demands and protestations. King used the speech to deliver what King's biographer David Garrow called a "…clarion call that conveyed the moral power of the movement's cause" to the many millions who watched it live on television (Schlueter, 2002).

The "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was not so much a protest as it was a clarification and response to Southern pastors (particularly in the city of Birmingham), all of whom were Caucasian in ethnicity, who had criticized King's efforts to bring a sense of justice through the integration of previously segregated public transportation and public schools. In the 1954 landmark ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional. However, very little had been done in the South to respond positively to that High Court ruling. In fact in many instances the South seemed to double down on segregation, blocking black students from entering universities. Hence, King and his followers had marched on Birmingham, Alabama and were arrested for breaking what King referred to as an unjust law. Indeed he did specify the many injustices black people were forced to endure, like being called "nigger"; having to sleep in one's car because motels would not rent rooms to black folks; having a daughter (6 years old) turned away from public amusement park because she is black (the Atlantic).

"I Have a Dream"

Political Science Professor Nathan Schlueter quoted the New York Times' description of the March on Washington as "a pilgrimage" which was nothing more than "…merely a spectacle" until King began his powerful speech (Schlueter, 1). But when King began his speech, he inspired the 250,000 people with "…a peroration that was an anguished echo from all the old American reformers…full of the symbolism of Lincoln and Gandhi…he was both militant and sad," the Times wrote (Schlueter, 2).

Meanwhile, the "I Have a Dream" speech was the culmination of the long-anticipated and for some, the controversial "March on Washington" on August 28, 1963. According to a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior Education (Goodwin, et al., 2011), it was the speech that displayed King's powerful and transformational leadership skills for all to see and hear. The speech demonstrated King's transformational skills because he brilliantly went about "…identifying and articulating a vision" for his followers, Goodwin explains. The timing was symbolic and effective as well because the March took place 100 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

As for transformational leadership, the New York Times-owned publication About.com explains that transformational leaders "…challenge the status quo" and encourage their followers to "explore new ways of doing things" (Cherry, 2013). Transformational leaders also "…garner trust, respect and admiration" from their followers, and they demonstrate a "…clear vision that they are able to articulate" with "passion and motivation" (Cherry, p. 1).

His transformational leadership style in "Dream" included the heavy use of metaphors; some might say he overused the metaphor, but others would certainly argue that his colorful oratory set him apart from others who also made passionate speeches advocating for justice and fairness. When he told his audience in Washington D.C. that day that they (and he) had come to "cash a check," because the Constitution was really a "promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," he set up a brilliant metaphor that had the effect of bringing the demands of the African-American community down to a simple, easy-to-understand financial matter (Goodwin's quote, p. 28). That promissory note was intended to be a promise, he continued, that "…all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (Goodwin quoting King, p. 28). In other words, this particular point was not a radical message asking for something that is above and beyond what citizens should expect the government to provide; rather, it was part of what Americans had been guaranteed by the founding fathers.

But the black community has been given a "bad check" which had "insufficient funds" to deliver the Constitutional promise, he continued. That said, he then insisted that the American "bank of justice" could not possibly be "bankrupt" and so "…we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice" (Goodwin quoting King, p. 28). By using the phrase "upon demand" King was using his oratory and his transformational leadership talent to basically tell the nation that African-Americans were demanding their full rights as citizens. The time was "now," he stated, for America to be lifted up from the "quicksands of racial injustice" into the "solid rock of brotherhood" (Goodwin quoting King, p. 28).

Goodwin offers a deeper look at transformational leadership than Cherry did; he spells out six behaviors -- all of which were embraced by King -- that relate to this style of leadership. The four are: a) identifying and articulating a vision; b) providing an "appropriate model"; c) "fostering the acceptance of group goals"; d) offering "high performance expectations"; e) offering "individualized support"; and f) stimulating followers intellectually (Goodwin, 31). Moreover, Goodwin explained that King's speech "…created a sense of urgency and crisis" by adopting a "prophetic voice in his rhetoric" (Goodwin, p. 33).

How did King's style of protest and his speech affect later protests and later laws? According to Goodwin, protests by black and white demonstrators were often laced with quotes from King's speech, because King's rhetoric was "adamant and uncompromising" that had a lasting impact on the movement for racial justice (Goodwin, 33). His followers were challenged to "change the status quo" and to use non-violence as a tactic; he even told them how they should go about making change. President John Kennedy was of course paying very close attention and although Kennedy was assassinated the following November in Dallas, the momentum set in motion by King's oratory that day helped President Johnson get the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Right Act (1965) passed.

In Conclusion, as the authors of Chapter 2 point out, senior leaders can't possibly hope "…to master all or even most of… [END OF PREVIEW]

Four Different Ordering Options:

?
Which Option Should I Choose?

1.  Buy the full, 5-page paper:  $26.88

or

2.  Buy & remove for 30 days:  $38.47

or

3.  Access all 175,000+ papers:  $41.97/mo

(Already a member?  Click to download the paper!)

or

4.  Let us write a NEW paper for you!

Ask Us to Write a New Paper
Most popular!

Applying Servant Leadership Principles in a Conflicted Church Dissertation


Lessons From History Term Paper


Leadership Comparison Term Paper


MLK Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Essay


History's Great Leaders Term Paper


View 51 other related papers  >>

Cite This Research Paper:

APA Format

Dr. Kings Leadership Style.  (2013, June 14).  Retrieved April 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/dr-kings-leadership-style/1125260

MLA Format

"Dr. Kings Leadership Style."  14 June 2013.  Web.  25 April 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/dr-kings-leadership-style/1125260>.

Chicago Format

"Dr. Kings Leadership Style."  Essaytown.com.  June 14, 2013.  Accessed April 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/dr-kings-leadership-style/1125260.