Creating Positive Change: A Lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Part 1)

Today we are so excited to introduce an impactful, two-part series. As you may know, this coming Monday, we get to celebrate the great life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. So our team decided we would celebrate Dr. King on the podcast by sharing this lesson that John Maxwell gave at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King pastored and influenced so many people to create positive change in our country. John was especially honored to have Coretta Scott King and Bernice King present for this talk, along with many other influential world changers. During this talk, John uses Dr. King’s life as an example of how great leaders can create positive change.  

During the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow reflect on John’s lesson and the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. They discuss how MLK was the shining example of a leader who listens and inspires others to create positive change. More than ever before, the world needs leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., and we hope this episode will inspire you to create positive change in your own world. 

Our BONUS resource for this series is the Creating Positive Change Worksheet, which includes fill-in-the-blank notes from John’s teaching. You can download the worksheet by clicking “Download the Bonus Resource” below. 

READ THE TRANSCRIPT

Mark Cole:       Hey podcast leaders. Welcome to the John Maxwell Leadership podcast, the pod podcast that adds value to leaders who multiply value to others. I'm your host, Mark Cole. And I'm excited today about this impactful two part series that we're beginning this week. As you may know, especially those of you that listen and watch our podcast that are from the United States, this coming Monday, we celebrate the great light and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So our team decided that we would celebrate Dr. King on this podcast by sharing a lesson that John Maxwell gave several years ago at Ebeneezer Baptist church. Now, I have to stop there because that day I was in the environment, and John was there and he was given this lesson on how Dr. King had made such a huge impact on him. Now, I would imagine that you share with me this appreciation of how you have drawn from difficult times in your life, from the incredible legacy leader, Dr. King.

Now that particular day, John was honored to have Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's wife, and Bernice King in the talk. They were there. There were several other influential world changers. And John began in this talk to talk about how Dr. King's life was an example of how great leaders create positive change. So today after John's lesson, I'll be back with my co-host, Tracy Morrow. We'll dive further into John's lesson and give you some application for your own life and your own leadership. As always, if you would like to download the free bonus resource, this is a fill in the blank worksheet from John's lesson. You will be able to go to Maxwell podcast.com/mlk, click on the bonus resource button, and you will be able to follow along. Now, are you passionate about creating positive change? Are you passionate about learning of the impact, the legacy, the incredible brilliant leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here we go. Here is Dr. John C. Maxwell

John Maxwell:  In a moment I'm going to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who I would consider to be in the last century, the greatest leader in the world. Not only in America, but the entire world, for the change that he brought. And for us to be in this historic place where he preached and shepherded a flock and was a pastor and a leader, and then we're especially honored to have his wife, Coretta Scott King and Bernice King here with us. And I want to say one more thing before I launch into this lesson about Dr. King. This year, I've had two highlights. In fact, recently somebody came to me and said, "John, what have been your highlights this year?" And it was so easy for me to tell him what it was, because I really have had two highlights.

I had to prove bridge on the day that we honor Dr. King as a holiday to be here at Ebeneezer Baptist Church. And the family was so kind to ask me to come down with other speakers and take a few minutes to talk about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a leader. It was a highlight. Place was packed out, the service incredibly inspiring. And just to be able to stand with other people who have been great leaders, people who have stood with courageous stands for what is truly right, to be able to do that and to speak that day was an incredible honor. My first highlight was being able to honor him and spend a little bit of time with the family and the people on his whole holiday. Let's go to your notes. People are often led to causes and often become committed to great ideas through persons who personify those ideas. They have to find the embodiment of the idea in flesh and blood in order to commit themselves to it, and Martin Luther King Jr was such a man.

In James McGregor Burns book on leadership, here's what he said. Leadership is leaders acting as well as caring, inspiring, and persuading others to act for certain shared goals that represent the values, the wants and the needs, the aspirations and the expectations of themselves and the people that they represent. And the genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders care about, visualize, and act on their own and their followers values and motivations. James McGregor Burns gives us three key points in that paragraph about leaders and about leadership. Number one, leadership omits the use of coercive power. Doesn't need to, if they're good leaders. Number two, leaders have a bias for action. And number three, leaders act with respect for the values of their people. When I read that statement... And I read that paragraph, which basically gives these three points, that leadership omits the use of cursive power, leaders have a bias for action, and leaders act with respect for the values of their people.

I thought immediately, the first time I ever read it, of Dr. Martin Luther King. Again, here was a leader who understood and did all three well. History has clearly demonstrated that especially effective leaders often tend to merge during periods of great change. For every major turning point in American history, creative leaders for the times and uniquely suited to the task, assume the mantle of leadership. With time history has judged all of these people to have been great leaders. A reminder when Dr. King received the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. That he said, "History has thrust me into this position." Again, it's almost as if there's a higher calling to the great leaders to be at the right time, at the right place, appropriate to lead a nation through a crisis. Let me go on. After completing his college education, Martin Luther King Jr. could have pursued a career that might have been more financially promising than the ministry.

He could have stayed in Boston where living conditions for African Americans were better than those in the south, but he chose to return to Atlanta. "I had an opportunity to live in the north because I had one or two jobs offered," he recalled, "But I went back south mainly because I felt that there were great opportunities there to transform the section of the country into something rich." He said, "I mean, rich in spirit and beautiful." Perhaps Dr. King also went back home because he never out over the racial discrimination that he had experienced, or because he never forgot the injustice of being treated as anything less than a human being. And maybe he went back because of a vow that he made to his mother when still a youngster. You know he told her, "When I get to be a man, I'm going to hit this thing and I'm going to it hard. Mother, there is no such thing as one people being better than another. The Lord made all of us equal, and I'm going to see to that."

How leaders create positive change. Number one, the first thing that leaders do to create positive change is listen. Lead by being led. To quote Dr. King in 1958, he said, "I neither started the protest, nor suggested it. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman." Let me give you the context of statement. During Martin's second year in Montgomery, an incident occurred on a city bus that effectively ignited the American civil rights movement. December 1st, 1955, Mrs. Rosa Parks, a 42 year old Taylor's assistant was commanded by a bus driver to give a seat to a white male passenger who had just boarded. Mrs. Park simply said, no. She knew that she was breaking the law, but she nevertheless refused to move. In response, the driver stopped the bus called the police and had her arrested.

"I don't really know why I wouldn't move," she later commented. "There was no plot or plan at all. I was just tired. My feet hurt." As I began to study the life of Dr. King, it was interesting in those early days, he didn't run for office. He basically listened, listened to the needs of the people. It was their desires to begin to place him up in a leadership position. It reminds me of the statements of Plato, who said, "Only those who do not seek power, are qualified to hold it." Boy, isn't that a great statement? Wow! It's almost like if you want it, you shouldn't have it. And if you do want it and you get it, you're probably dangerous in the process. The desire for lifelong learning fosters an equally strong tendency to listen. Dr. King was a great listener. In fact, his mode of operation and leadership was, "I listen, and then I lead."

How many times do we want to lead without listing? You see, as a leader, growth never stops. We never get to a position where we know it all, where we can say it all, where we can teach it all. He had a constant appetite to continue learning. So I put in your notes, the four L's of a leader. And I believe that they're in this sequence. The first L is loving. You have to love people. The second L is listening. Because if you truly love them, you want to hear what they have to say. The third L is learning. Obviously, when you begin to listen, you begin to learn. And the last one is leading. When you love, listen, and learn, then you're qualified to lead. So how do leaders create positive change?

Number one is listen. Lead by being led. Number two, communicate. In other words, connect with others. Now, as you know, I love the subject of communication. And when you think of great speeches, I mean, if you go back into the late 1700s, the great speech is Patrick Henry, give me Liberty, or give me death. If you go into the middle 1800s, the great speech is the Gettysburg address. But if you go in the 1900s, the great speech is I have a dream. Why? Because he had the ability to communicate vision as great leaders only have that ability. It's not, so listen to these thoughts. Interestingly enough, Martin's uniques speaking ability was revealed at a very early age. As a child, he started following in his father's footsteps at the Ebeneezer Baptist church. Hello, you're sitting in the place right now, where he could read the scripture and lead discussions in Sunday school, and even preach of the congregation on occasion.

And according to [inaudible 00:12:33] King, Martin held his audience a spell bound when he talked. In studying Dr. King's speeches, there are some keys, I think, to his speaking that I want to pass on to you. Because as leaders, we're constantly wanting to communicate vision to our people. Number one, he spoke in the simple and common language of the people. In other words, he was easy to understand. Or an expression I've used often in my trying to communicate, he put the cookies on the lower shelf. Everybody could have some. He spoken simple and common language. Number two, he shared stories of sacrifice encouraged by the people.

Number three, he used biblical symbols and imagery. For example, he would talk about the David of truth, speaking of the movement. And he would speak of the Goliath of injustice of the people that were oppressive in that time. Used biblical terms and symbols and imagery. Number four, he told personal stories of people in the movement. The fifth key to Dr. King's speeches is that he used metaphors to express hope and courage. Metaphors like after seeing demonstrators assaulted in Birmingham with high pressure water hoses, he pointed out that the police failed to realize that the protestors had a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. Man, it makes you just want to start marching, doesn't it? I mean, you can't sit still. He had this in credible ability to speak and communicate, cut right to the people's heart. Number six, he repeated words until they became themes.

His first national speech, give us the ballot. He continually said, "Just give us the ballot. Just give us the ballot, give us a chance to vote." Of course, in his great speech, let freedom reign nearly a dozen times. In that I have a dream speech, he kept saying, "Let freedom reign, let freedom reign, let freedom reign." He used repetition well. And I stop here just for a moment, because a little while ago, when we were touring much of this wonderful, wonderful... Not only this facility here, but when we were over in the King Center and we were listening to the speeches.

I mean, no matter what area you went into to listen to whatever speech he was using, he moved us. And I listened to it and I think he just moves me. He moves my heart. Well, it's a picture of a leader. It's a picture of a leader who has a passion, but it's a picture of a leader who knows where his or her people are. It's a picture of somebody that can articulate and voice what the people deep down inside actually feel. He put words to their feelings. He put pictures to what they sensed and wanted to see.

Mark Cole:       Hey, thank you, John Maxwell. And wow! I'm reminded, Traci, of this quote that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. He said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out. Hate only love can do that." Here we are today. And boy in some way, times have changed, and other ways times have not changed. One thing that's true about every one of us as leaders, is there comes a time, often many times, to where we have to create positive change in the middle of negative environments. And so here we are today, Traci. And John's given us a great first part of a two part lesson. And I'm glad to be host today with you. Welcome aboard.

Traci Morrow:  Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here. I'm honored to be here talking about this lesson today. I think it is incredibly powerful that John kicks it off. John, who has so many trophies and awards that he has been given as the number one leadership expert, an expert of leadership, of studying leaders over the course of the history of mankind. And what did, what does he kick this lesson off by saying, that Martin Luther King Jr. is the greatest leader in the world in this last century. And how powerful is that for John to say that? So I love that you kicked off that quote, because I'm a huge fan of that. I mean, that really is... When we've been talking so much about how do we change our world, it is with love and by bringing light in. And John certainly highlights a lot of the light that Martin Luther King brought in.

And so, one of the things that I was thinking about, when John first started out talking about the three key points of leadership, Mark, he said, leadership omits the use of coercive power, leaders have a bias for action, and leaders act with respect for the values of their people. And that really makes me think of the transformation through values that we have been trying to pick up this mantle and carry it in this modern world, into the world, and now into the United States. And so, as we look to honor the mantle that Martin Luther King Jr. carried and passed the baton really to our generation, how are we doing that? Share that. I know many of our podcast listeners know what we're doing by bringing values based lessons to kids, to adults, to professionals, to people who are just starting out. But talk about how we are trying to carry that mantle in this modern world through transformation tables.

Mark Cole:       Well, in many ways, Traci, we're not doing enough. In fact, let me say it differently. In most ways, we're not doing enough. It's what I call wake up power. I woke up this morning wanting to do more about valuing people, about leading during difficult times. To be honest with you, about creating positive change. So what I have found in leadership, and I think what John helped me with, I thought through for a moment, there's no way, even though I was born right around that time or at the end of Dr. Martin Luther King's life, I found myself relating to that time. And certainly leading during difficult times is something that we continued to have to do today. Think of COVID, think of some of the things that we've dealt with in the last two years, that's even centered in the US around race.

And yet here I go with answering your question to say, on many of the areas in life, in culture that needs positive change, there's so much more to be done. And yet in the life of every leader, we find ourself every single day meeting a new obstacle, a new challenge. I mean, Traci, go back three years ago and think about COVID, and the idea of leading through COVID. Leaders that know how to create positive change. There is always a short supply of those leaders. And I think what John pulls out of the life of Martin Luther King, and I think what John modeled in this lesson points is something that all of us need to find. It's substantive. It's the idea that with listening, this first trait that John brings up, we need to listen more. Many of you in the US will know this name as soon as I say it. Right after George Floyd. I found that everybody wanted a statement. Everybody wanted to make a statement or to hear a statement.

And yet I found many leaders saying, "I'll tell you what I need to do. I need to quit making more statements and I need to start listening." And yet isn't it interesting? Several years ago, what John pulled out of Martin Luther King's leadership life was the art of listening. The art of slowing down and with love... In fact, to show love, to listen. And I think more than remembering something that might have been said, a statement that I might would make, Traci, to answer your question. I want people to remember from this podcast more of an action than a statement, and that action is listening. We listen, we love, we learn by creating an environment where those around us, their opinion, their life experience matters. And that's what great leaders that create positive change do. They listen to the point of allowing others to feel like their perspective or their point of view matters.

Traci Morrow:  I love how John gave the L's, talking about how Dr. King loved. And from that position of loving, he was listening. And I think that tension that we feel, especially when you talk about, for instance, George Floyd, or when you hear about racial injustice, or things that stir your soul, that anger is involved in there. And I'm just so struck by how Dr. King came from a place of love and listened, and the power... Back to that statement that you led with, the power that comes when you're stirred, when your anger comes from a place of because you love people. You're mad at injustice, what's wrong. And so you choose to listen. And I love that John really highlighted that, and that you highlighted that when we talk about values. We do these... Go ahead.

Mark Cole:       What's funny, Traci... I'm sorry. We're on zoom today. For those of you that are not watching the podcast on YouTube, but you should, maxwellpodcast.com/youtube. But if you're listening, Traci, we got a little bit of delay because [inaudible 00:23:10] studio together in Zoom. And I'm sorry, I had to interrupt you. I thought you were wrapping right there. But let me say this. It elicits emotion that some it makes angry, or some it makes defiant, or others that it makes sad. John's been saying for the last couple of years, "I'm leadership sad." And if you distill down his sadness and you notice what we learned even in today's lesson... And by the way, come back next week after the Martin Luther King birthday celebration in the US. And we're going to pull three more points from John Maxwell.

But this passion to love, despite the frustration that we observe with Martin Luther king today and in studying him, and this passion that John has of sadness because of the leadership deficit that our world has right now, especially that's been demonstrated over the last few years. It all has a root. And the root is that somehow we, as people, feel like we can devalue another human being. So somehow that our leadership position makes us more elite or more valuable than someone else, or our color, or our culture, or our perspective, or our political party, all of this somehow puts us in a "better category". By putting ourselves, and even in our minds, in a better category, we're devaluing another human being.

And you cannot create positive change by demeaning someone else.

Traci Morrow:  That's right.

Mark Cole:       You can't. There's no such thing. There's no positive change in saying, "I'm better than you. So let's go my way." No way. That doesn't create positive change. It may create change, but it's short-lived, it's not sustainable, and it will come back and create division at some point down the road. And I think what we're learning from John specifically in this lesson, he took away from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King is this, we've got to listen and collaborate to create change. It's got to be inclusive for it to be sustainable, positive change.

Traci Morrow:  So, John went into... He broke down his communication style. And so I listen to this and I can't help, but think that our podcast friends are listening to this too, and feeling stirred and moved to act. When you hear about someone who's so inspiring and so... Who just lived a life so fully engaged with what they were passionate about and what was right. And so John breaks it down into the six pieces of how Dr. King's speeches inspired people. And so he clearly had a unique gift and calling for communication in the way he interacted, and John broke each of those down and how he interacted and engaged with people. But do you think that that was... Obviously, he's a stand apart. John said he was the greatest leader in the world for the entire century.

And do you think that that was specifically for such a time as this, that was unique to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or do you think that we are all gifted on smaller levels, and called to take up the mantle in those studying those six points that John broke down for us, and finding our own voice and way to come alongside and not wait for another once in a century leader to come along, but instead for all of us to do our part, to step into those shoes. What do you think about that?

Mark Cole:       Well, it's funny. Because again, if you're watching, you see me lean right down. I'm teaching a lesson this afternoon on the law of legacy. And in this law of legacy that John teaches... And this is from the 21 laws. And I get the privilege of communicating this in a little bit. In fact, we'll put in the show notes how you can get access to this digital product that we're creating. But John teaches in the law of legacy. That legacy is when you do something so great that when you're gone, somebody wants to continue what you started. Now catch that we're today, what?

Traci Morrow:  It's amazing.

Mark Cole:       50 years later, 60 years later. I should know my math a little bit better.

Traci Morrow:  60.

Mark Cole:       60 years later, here's what we're doing. We're dedicating to two podcast, not just because the subject matter is still needed today, sadly, but because somebody stood up when times were the most oppressive for a group of people and said, "I have a dream." And guess what, Traci, I may not understand the culture. I may not understand the color all the time, but I share that dream, that all men, every man, every woman would be seen as equal, and would have the same opportunities as each other. That is a legacy that I carry. In fact, I carry it so many times incorrectly, or I feel like I don't even qualify. But I carry that dream, that legacy. I am inspired 60 years later to continue that legacy.

Traci Morrow:  Me too.

Mark Cole:       I'm inspired right now by John Maxwell to continue his legacy of what he learned from the life of the greatest leader of the century that he said. Because there are legacy here that, from leaders, forget the subject matter for one second. Don't forget it, but just set it right over here for one second. And here's the point in the lesson, do something with your life so great that when you think you're done, death or weariness, or whatever, that somebody is so inspired that they continue it.

And that's what today we're getting to do in this lesson. We're getting to carry this legacy forward. Some of us in a much smaller, less, significant role than some of you that get to carry this inspired dream. But all of us, nonetheless, wanting to carry this forward by this moment of taking the podcast and focusing on what leading with legacy for positive change can really be about. Traci, I hope 25 years from now, in the month of February or in the month of January rather... In the month of January, I hope 25 years from now, you and I, with a little more feeble voice, is still sitting here on the podcast, talking about the inspiration of the legacy of Martin Luther King, of John Maxwell. And how these leaders know how to create positive change.

Traci Morrow:  That's right. We aren't meant to wait for the next big leader. We can pick up right where he left a very clear path, and John by his life, and where John broke it down for us to study it, to learn it, and to begin to act. And I feel like this is a charge to me leaving this podcast and preparing for the next three, for next week. I feel like we are called to be a part of that with love, and to listen, and learn, and then to lead other people through ourselves.

Mark Cole:       You know what's funny, Traci, as you said that? For some time. Again, I think it was back at the tragic death of George Floyd. I began to say, I wanted to listen. I want to learn and then lead, and I want to get it in that order. The order mattered to me all of a sudden. I want to listen. I want to quit talking. I want to listen, because I don't understand. My culture, my environment did not give me the ability to understand without listening first. And then I wanted to learn. I want to learn something. I don't want to just listen to check it off and say, "Now I listen to you when you listen to me." I wanted to listen to consume something to become better. And then I would say with the third L like a Baptist preacher, "I want to lead." But you know what I learned from Dr. King today, Love's got to be saturated through every one of those steps.

It's not just listen, learn and lead. We got to love to listen, and we got to listen to love. We got to love to learn, and we got to learn to love. We got to love to lead, and we got to lead to love. And I learned today that while I've been saying something in my attempt to lead and create positive change in a very difficult world that we've been leading in the last two years, I learned today from Dr. King, that I was incomplete. I don't need to just listen, learn and lead. I need to love, listen, love, lead, love, learn, and then love, love, love some more. Because to truly value people, it's got to be wrapped and intertwined with a love for one another.

I don't always quote scripture, or pull from my foundation of faith in podcasts like this. But before you can ever do to another what you want done to you, you've got to love that person. You've got to love your neighbor as yourself. It's got to be wrapped in love. And just so grateful for Dr. Maxwell, to introduce to us Dr. King's passion, to dream from a place of love. And Traci, you model and emulate this so much with your personal life. We talk about it often. You model it in your leadership of your companies. We talk about that often. And even as we were prepping for today's podcast, we were wanting to make sure that love and not deafness or inappropriate, or a lack of relevancy would through in the podcast. And boom! You did it. Because I've heard love, I've heard passion. And I'm thankful. I can't wait for next week and three more lessons. And by the way, if you're listening to this, on the day of we release the podcast. Recording's usually on Wednesday in the US. We release the video, I think very shortly thereafter.

And so if you're listening to this in person, here's my challenge to you today, especially in the US. On Monday, we will celebrate. I'm going to use John Maxwell's words, because he's a pretty good authority on leadership. The best leader this century has ever seen. And I'm going to challenge you on Monday, do something different for Martin Luther King Day than you've ever done. Find somebody. Maybe it's somebody that don't look like you, think like you, come from the same environment that you came from. And find a way to create a moment of pause change for that individual. That will be a way to carry the legacy of Martin Luther King. That'll be a way to celebrate what John Maxwell said is the greatest leader in this century. And by the way, we didn't talk about communicate, but that'll be a way to continue communicate a dream that Dr. King stood up and said that forever changed the trajectory of a negative situation to continue to seek a positive solution.

That's how we continue. That's why we do this podcast, is to create a leadership environment that will make a difference. Now, a lot of times I recognize a listener and we use a comment. I don't want to do that today, because I'm going to leave you with that challenge. Go make a difference. Go create a positive change. And more and more action item. Come back next week for part two for creating positive change, a lesson on Martin Luther King. Until next time, let's live, let's create positive change.

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