By Linda Blair
Fifty years ago this Wednesday, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. He was only 39 years old.
During his short life, King demonstrated extraordinary leadership qualities. He had a clear goal – to transform the United States into a country where all citizens are treated equally – and conveyed it to individuals from all walks of life.
But what is it that makes a good leader a truly great one?
Traditional qualities such as intelligence, determination, toughness and a clear vision that’s right for the times are essential. However, in his 1998 article for the Harvard Business Review, author Daniel Goleman argues that although these assets are necessary, they’re insufficient. Exceptional leaders must also possess what he called “emotional intelligence”, or EQ, a skill comprised of five factors.
The first is motivation, a passion to achieve goals that are more important to you than status or material gain. When you’re highly motivated, you refuse to give up, remaining determined and optimistic.
Self-awareness is second. This is a recognition of your strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, and the effect you have on others.
Third is self-regulation, the ability to control or redirect any disruptive moods or impulses you have so you can continue to work towards your goals effectively. Self-regulators know how to wait, to allow emotions to settle so they can think before they act.
Social skill is the fourth quality, the ability to communicate clearly, to persuade others to join your cause, to identify common ground and to manage relationships so those around you work with you.
Finally – and, in my opinion, most important – a great leader must possess empathy. This is the ability to understand the emotions, needs and desires of others, seeing things from their viewpoint, making them feel you’re on their side.
King’s preparation and delivery of his “I Have a Dream” speech during the march on Washington on Aug 28 1963 illustrates these five qualities perfectly. He was determined to find backing that day to achieve his goal of equality. He knew he was a powerful and effective orator, but he also knew he tended to dwell on past successes. Therefore, he began his speech by reading from a text prepared for him by his team.
Listen to his delivery and you’ll sense from the start that he’s listening for the audience response. He pauses, noting that the crowd rallies whenever he makes references to patriotism or the Bible, whenever his words are poetic, and whenever he repeats powerful phrases.
That’s why, when after 11 minutes his friend Mahalia Jackson urged him to “tell them about your dream, Martin”, he set aside his prepared text. He stopped lecturing to the audience and began speaking to them from his heart.
And that’s when he gave the speech that marked the turning point of the American civil rights movement.