Creating Positive Change: A Lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Part 2)

This week, we are back with part two of John Maxwell’s incredible lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you missed part one, please go back and listen because there is some great wisdom that you can learn as a transformational leader in that episode. And this week, there is even more! As John finishes his talk on Dr. King’s life and leadership, John shares the final three points on how leaders can create positive change in their world and their community.

During the application portion of this episode, Mark Cole and Traci Morrow dive into a leader’s crucial ability to move others to act. They discuss how leaders have the tendency to either be task-oriented or relationship-oriented, and how a leader needs to balance and leverage both in order to create positive change within their organization and their community.

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.


Mark Cole:       Hey podcast, family. Welcome to The John Maxwell Leadership Podcast. The podcast that adds value to leaders who multiply value to others. I'm Mark Cole and this week we are back with part two of John Maxwell's incredible lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If you missed part one, I challenge you to pause the button, go back and listen, because there are some great wisdom nuggets that John gives us as we learn about transformation and a transformational. Leader today there's even more. John completes his talk on Dr. King's life and leadership. Now, remember, he did this talk in front of Coretta Scott King and be Bernice King and John shared five points.

Today, we will finish up with the final three points on how leaders can create positive change in the world and in their communities. Once John is done, I will come back with my co-host Traci Morrow, and we're going to offer you some practical applications that will help you implement the things you learned here into your own leadership. If you would like to download the bonus resource, which is the fill in the blank worksheet from this lesson, please visit Click on the bonus resource button below the show notes. All right, here we go. Here is John Maxwell.

John Maxwell:  Now, we've seen there are two things so far that leaders do to create positive change. Number one, they listen, they lead by being led and number two, they communicate, they connect with others. Number three, they persuade. In other words, they move others to action. Now, how did Dr. King motivate people to act? Number one, he placed events in context. He had the ability when he spoke to put all the events in context. Let me explain what I mean. In your notes, doing so creates understanding as to why the movement is important and that in turn allows each individual to decide what the vision means to them personally. Martin placed the American civil rights movement in the context of a much broader struggle. It wasn't just a group of people protesting for their civil rights, it was a resumption of the incomplete revolution of the civil war, and it was the continuation of that noble journey toward the goals reflected in the declaration of independence, the preamble to the constitution, the constitution itself, the bill of rights and the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments to the constitution.

In fact, one of the things I noticed when I was doing research and reading about him, that I just thought was powerful. When you talk about putting something in context, he liked to talk about Rip Van Winkle. And he said the amazing thing is not that he slept for all those years, the amazing thing is he slept through a revolution and he kept telling the people you don't want to do that. You don't want to be Rio Van Winkle, you don't want to sleep through what is incredible in the change that's being created in our culture in society today. Number two, how did he motivate people to act? The second thing he did is he appealed to the ethics and the morality of people. Dr. King often portrayed the movement as just that, not simply a conflict between white people and black people, but a struggle between justice and injustice and between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. In Martin's mind, it was a quest for freedom and human dignity.

We no longer will be tolerant of anything less than our due right in heritage. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice, to the solid rock of human dignity. If America is to remain a first-class nation, she can no longer have second class citizens. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we'll perish as fools. He appealed to ethics and morality. He placed events in context. The third thing that Dr. King did that motivated people is that he shared facts and advocated specific initiatives. Great leaders point to the problem, and then clearly give several solutions. In fact, Dr. King would ask how is it that we could have all the great technology in America and yet cannot make the constitution work at a luncheonette in a Southern town?

See Dr. King constantly not only shared what the facts were, but he was always giving ideas to the Government, to the President, to Congress of how to create certain acts that would allow this to no longer be. The last thing that he did in moving people to act is number four, he provided continual encouragement and set a good example. He was constantly encouraging people and he modeled the behavior that he wanted them to see.

At times when there were setbacks, Martin offered the people comfort and reassurance, no lie can live forever he'd say, the truth that presses to earth will rise again. The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. He would remind them that sometimes it's necessary to go backwards in order to go forward or that a final victory is an accumulation of many short-term victories. The fourth thing that leaders do in creating positive change is they consolidate, they form alliances with others. Martin Luther King understood that in isolation, a minority group would not be able to achieve a major social transformation. 10% of the population cannot by tensions and alone induce 90% to change a way of life. We aren't going to be free anywhere in the United States until there is a committed empathy on the part of the white majority. So Dr. King advocated the creation of alliances of many kinds, political, social, religious, intellectual, economic, and cultural, coming together creates energy, enthusiasm, and courage.

The biggest job in getting any movement off the ground Martin wrote is to keep together the people who form it. This task requires more than a common aim. It demands a philosophy that wins and holds the people's allegiance. And it depends upon open channels of communications between the people and their leaders and Martin Luther King kept people together by doing two things, asking for specific commitments and number two, planning and goal setting. So how did the leaders create positive change? We've looked at four ways modeled by Dr. King. Number one, listen, you lead by being led. Two, communicate, you connect with others. Three persuade, move others to action, and four consolidate and form alliances with others. Number five, touch. Walk slowly through the crowd. It reminds me, of course, of many years ago now when Peters and Waterman did a search of excellence, remember, and they coined the phrase that became very popular in corporate society by walking around and you touch the people, you see them.

That's exactly what Dr. King did. This is not in your notes, but let me just read it to you. During the six years of the American Revolution, for instance, general George Washington literally spent every waking and sleeping moment in the field with his troops. Abraham Lincoln made daily walks to the war department during the civil war, and he also toured the capital on a horseback and visited the troops in the battlefields in neighboring, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Lincoln's top general that he has listed as grant resolved that he would not rent a house at the Capitol and direct the war effort from an arm chair in Washington of Franklin Roosevelt because he was confined to a wheelchair, brought others to the White House and kept a crowded schedule of meetings and interviews and frequently his wife Eleanor would travel in the president's place, proudly noting that she was her husband's legs.

And Harry Truman was famous not only for his whistle stop tour campaign but also for his regular evening walks. In other words, the great leaders walk slowly through the crowd, and there are five benefits of obviously walking slowly through the crowd. Number one is obtain key information. When you walk slowly through the crowd, they're going to tell you some stuff right from the grassroots. Number two, to keep people informed. You see as the leader, you're not only obtaining key information, but you're keeping your people informed. Number three, to obtain feedback, going back and forth. Number four, to facilitate learning and I think number five is the key on the management by walking around and understanding what people think and feel. Listen carefully, many of the world's greatest leaders were known for their compassionate and caring nature. During the civil war, for example, Abraham Lincoln was famous for pardoning young soldiers who were to be shot for desertion.

He appealed to the, and I love this phrase, better angels of our nature and was certain to have let the south move easily back into the union had he not been assassinated. Lincoln's unusual empathy for people could be traced to his having grown up in abject poverty, and never having for out in the plight of the underprivileged. Lincoln grew up in poverty, Roosevelt experienced a disease. And while the qualities of compassion and empathy are not limited to the leaders who experienced difficult circumstances earlier in life, it should be remembered that Martin Luther King Jr. has always been and regarded as a compassionate man of the common people. As a matter of fact, when time magazine named him 1963 man of the year, the cover story acknowledged that he had an indescribable capacity for empathy that is the touch-tone of leadership. So how do we conclude this lesson on creating positive change among people? Martin Luther King Jr. defined courage as the power of the mind to overcome fear and the determination not to be overwhelmed by any object.

At every moment, he was conscious of my limitations. He admitted he didn't have all the answers. I am still searching for myself. He said I don't know everything. This next phrase is an incredible phrase. He said he wouldn't have any money to leave behind but just wanted to leave a committed life behind. Wow, that's powerful. He was the greatest among you should be the servant he often quoted from the scriptures. I want to be a servant and he didn't want a long funeral, not even a eulogy of more than one or two minutes he said.

On that day, he wanted no mention of his Nobel peace prize or the hundreds of other awards that he had received. Rather, he said, I'd like somebody to mention that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others, tried to love somebody, tried to feed the hungry, to clothe those who were naked, to visit those who were in prison, tried to love and serve humanity. Say that I was a drum major for justice, a drum major for peace, a drum major for righteousness. Through his words and actions, it's clear that Dr. King wanted people to remember of him that I did try. I did try. I did try.

Mark Cole:       Hi, podcast family. Welcome back, Traci. I am excited about week number two, creating positive change. Now, as we began to unpack this, Traci, I'm reminded of a quote from Donald McGannon and he said that leadership is an action, not a position. And if we learned anything today from John Maxwell's observation of Dr. King, we learned that Dr. King was a man of action.

Traci Morrow:  Yes, he was.

Mark Cole:       He was a man that truly his actions continue to this day as we debrief him again. So welcome back. I'm so glad to be breaking this down again with you today.

Traci Morrow:  I am as well. And he was not just a man of action, but he was a man who moved others to action and here we are 60 years later and we're still talking about how he's moving us to action and we're celebrating how we can find new creative ways to act on the things as we're learning and growing still today. I came up with a quote too, I've got one here by Martin Luther King Jr. and it goes like this. The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. And that really encapsulates where he lived. He lived in that tension. And that inspires me. That inspires me because I think as humans, we just are continually striving. Well, I'll just say I am, but continually striving to get comfortable.

Right? I mean, we as leaders push ourselves out of the comforting nest, but yet intuitively we always are trying to make things so we feel a little bit more comfortable. So we are in a place where we're comfortable. So the temperature is comfortable and we are eating something so we don't feel too hungry. And when we start to work out we don't want to sweat too much or feel too much pain. We always want to stay in that comfortable space and that's not where we actually find out who we are as people.

And so on point number three, John kicks off talking about how he moved other people to action and if you guys look in your notes there, you'll see he breaks down that point number three into four points, which I think are shining examples, if we all did these in our family, in our work environment, in the movement that we're passionate about, it literally could change our world. So Mark, in 0.3 of how he was persuasive and moved other people to action, which of those four pieces speaks to you as a leader of a movement today and inspires you and calls to you?

Mark Cole:       So you've heard me on this podcast, whether you visually watch us at, or whether you listen in through one of your favorite podcast players, you've heard me say values-based people centered servant leadership to the point that many of you just probably roll your eyes, but it's really a rallying cry of our message. And so coming back to your question Traci of which one probably speaks to me at this time of leadership 60 years after the model of leader Martin Luther King lived, it would probably be appealing to ethics and morality. I believe when you hear and I mentioned this last week, but when you hear John Maxwell say things like he's leadership sad. I don't think that's a statement of hopelessness, that there's no hope and that things are not going to get better.

I think that's a statement of reality that we've really started becoming comfortable with only celebrating highlights and not admitting low lights. Social media has helped us with that. It's a highlight reel, right? And then I think the other thing that we've become extremely comfortable with in every society in every community that I go to is we've become comfortable with making certain people or certain classes of people better than others. It's true in Romania where I just was just a few months ago. It's true in Costa Rica where I was just a few weeks ago. It's true in the United States where I live. We have this ability to somehow in the name of ethics, in the name of morality to position ourselves better than the other person. Recently back in November, I was at one of our events called Exchange. We'll talk more about that event at some point in a future podcast.

But Donald Miller, one of my favorite writers was at Exchange and he talked about this story that all of us are living. And in this story is a victim, a villain, a hero, and a guide. And I won't teach Donald Miller's stuff although it's worth teaching. We'll try to get him on here sometime. But he talked about how that all of us have in each moment, the temptation to be one of those, a victim, a villain, a hero, a guide, and how that this villain in us try to make other people look bad so that we don't feel as bad about being bad. We vilify people. And I'm going back to a very long answer, Traci, to say, I believe what Donald Miller is saying is the same thing that John Maxwell was saying, it is the same thing that Martin Luther King was saying and it is we have a dream that all men and women would be as equal, being able to have equal opportunity, an equal chance to be respected and to be valued.

And so that's why John Maxwell has built his entire platform on a values-based leadership, on a concept of serving others. Because when you serve others, you see them as valuable. And that's what we're trying to do. When you see people needing help, then you tend to want to Lord over them because you have an answer that they don't so let me help you and that way you'll owe me. But when we see people as valuable, we serve them. And that whole concept that we are giving our life to Traci, and you're a big part of this, and Martin Luther King did this, it's this real passion to come to the ethics and the morality deep within human beings and say that we are people of value that value people.

Traci Morrow:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). I was taking notes, as you were writing, if those of you who are joining us on YouTube if you're seeing me writing away. We had Cheryl Bachelder CEO of Popeyes a few years ago. And she said in faith-based communities, they tend to love their people, but they aren't great at finding solutions necessarily in the bottom-line. And then in secular based companies, sometimes the struggle is that they are bottom-line oriented and solution-oriented, but struggle to love their people. And so I was just thinking on point number four, where John talked about that Martin Luther King Jr. was great at forming alliances with others and being solution-oriented. He really mastered both edges of what Cheryl talked about, and that was loving people, but also have solutions. And so can you break that down a little bit for somebody who kind of leans one way or the other as a leader?

Mark Cole:       Yeah. I can do my best. You know, one of the things I love about Martin Luther King, I love this about him, he was in the middle of a very tense time, and there were other people that were very influential in the civil rights movement that resorted to anger and frustration rightly so, imagine what people were going through at that time, there should have been anger.

Traci Morrow:  Right.

Mark Cole:       There was righteous indignation. There was rightness in being indignant and frustrated. But Martin Luther King said that he saw bigger than that. And he said, righteous indignation is going to further create a chasm, but love has the ability to bridge over the chasm and I'm going to choose to love. And so we come back to this question of how did he bring people together in a time that there was rightful anger and frustration and pent up emotion? He did it with love.

Traci Morrow:  Yeah.

Mark Cole:       He did it with an emotion that most people don't employ when something is wrong or when they have been wronged. Yet, that was what he chose. Very similarly, I see that within each of us right now we have this ability to really get challenged because this is going to be a little dated perhaps for some of you, but others around the world. I just got back from Italy. I just got back from Amsterdam. I just got back from the Dominican Republican. Many of our friends around the world is still fighting against COVID significantly, to wear a mask or not wear a mask. And we try to polarize subjects all the time, rather than love people exactly where they are and we either try to change them or condemn them. That's our two options. Well, I'm going to tell you Martin Luther King showed us another option.

Do they deserve condemnation? Perhaps. Do they need to be changed? Perhaps. But let's not even deal with that righteous position. Is there a way to love people right where they are? And I think when you look at our subject matter today, Traci, we are about creating positive change. And yet Martin Luther King chose to love where people were and he created these alliances and he consolidated positions and posturing with a bridge of love. And I want to see those models come back for us with all the tense things we're dealing with right now, to where we as leaders find a higher narrative, a louder noise in all the divisive positions that we're taking on points and issues these days, and let's find something bigger than we can rally around as one people, as one team, as Martin Luther King says one dream. And I believe that leadership is going to make a difference in today's economy.

Traci Morrow:  That's right. And I believe that today that it's not like, well, we tried to love them and it didn't work and so now we need to try hate. No, we continue to bang the drum of love. I think of that quote by Martin Luther King, where he says, hate is too great of a burden to bear. I have decided to stick with love. And so today we can continue to honor what he began continuing to love when it is easier to hate. When we talked about what's more comfortable is to lean into getting angry and hating and instead of that righteous anger. Anger isn't wrong.

It's what we do with our anger and instead with love being moved to act just as he was. And so point number five was walking slowly through the crowd and touching people. John is great at loving people too. He really embodies what Martin Luther King Jr. did, he taught and modeled. He broke it down into five parts there of the management of walking around. In this world, you hit it on social media, but in this world of social media, Mark, what does it look like to walk slowly through a crowd when largely the crowd is on social media and distance from us?

Mark Cole:       Something that I started in late 2021 and I'm continuing in 2022, I had Kimberly my executive partner, I had her get some note cards for me. Do you remember those? Not a direct message, not Instagram messaging. I'm talking about note cards, like paper that goes in envelopes. Y'all remember those, right? For those of you that are listening to the podcast, I'm illustrating it on YouTube. And it's this note and here's what I found as I try to write five notes of appreciation a week. Now, some of you do five a day, don't condemn me, I'm just getting started, but five a week and here's what I have found, comments like thank you for slowing down and sending me a note. Thank you for taking the time to send me a note.

Traci Morrow:  Wow.

Mark Cole:       Thank you for the thoughtfulness behind that note. It's a note people, it's a note.

Traci Morrow:  Powerful.

Mark Cole:       But here's why. It's slowing down and walking slowly through the crowd of instant messaging on Instagram. It's a slowing down mindset. So my challenge to you and I, as we try to create this positive change that Dr. King Jr. and John Maxwell pulling out of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If he was to walk slowly through the crowd of social media, through the noise of social media, I think he would find a few dialed phone calls on his phone. I think in other words, not text, but just pick up the phone and say, hey, I just wanted to hear your voice. And now here's what I was going to tell you on text message.

I called my 15-year-old daughter last week from Italy or wherever I was and I called her and I said, hey Macy. She said, dad, what did you want? What's wrong? You're calling me. I said, what do you mean? She said it must be an emergency because you're calling me. And I said, why? And she said, well, one it's late, but two, you're calling me rather than texting me. And I went, oh no, oh no. I'm allowing my 15-year-old daughter to realize that the best way to communicate or the only way to communicate is through text message. And I'm not dying on text messages or killing or slamming text messages. I use it a lot, but slowing down and walking through the crowd means doing something different to be unforgettable in communicating someone else's value.

Traci Morrow:  Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's really good. When in closing John quoted him and saying I want to leave a committed life behind. And I know you want to leave a committed life behind, we hear that from your week in and week out. I see you up close and personal with you, Mark. I know you love your people, your family, the people you serve and do life with. And for me, I think of what Andy Stanley says do for a few, what you wish you could do for the many, that's kind of what you just described there. We can't write a million note cards out to everybody because life is different from it used to be, but we can do it for few what we wish we could do for the many.

And I think as we listen to this, I think how can I personally and I'm listening and I know you are all listening and thin King the same thing. How can I honor Martin Luther King Jr. and what he was passionate about and how he honored people and loved all people? And how can I pass that onto my kids and not just in what I say, but how I live? And that's the kind of committed life I want to leave behind. And that's what my kids will say. You know, maybe a million people won't say it, generations of people won't say it about me. I don't know. But at least the people who are closest to me will have seen the way that I lived life and treated people and what a powerful thing that we can do. As you kind of close out this lesson, Mark, I mean, there's so many lessons that we have. What is it that you're thin King that you want to carry his legacy on as it merges with yours?

Mark Cole:       As you were sharing there and talking about what do I want, Macy, my daughter, Tory, my daughter, my grandkids, what do I want them to carry on from me? Or what do I want my legacy to be like or about. Traci, here's where I went and this may be going a little bit of a different direction, but you asked where did my mind go.

Traci Morrow:  Yeah, sure.

Mark Cole:       And so you can't convince me that Martin Luther King standing at Washington mall with the speech that we all have died to listen to and want to listen to all the time, but specifically this time of the year, you can't convince me while he was up there saying I have a dream that he was going and I hope two people that can't even relate to me 60 years from now is celebrating my birthday. I don't think he ever thought that. And again, remember this lesson that we heard today from John Maxwell was in the presence of Coretta Scott King and Bernice King. I don't think he ever said, I hope this guy named John Maxwell, who's written a lot of books stands in front of my family and pulls out leadership lessons from my life.

Traci Morrow:  Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Cole:       I don't think he had that thought at all.

Traci Morrow:  Yeah.

Mark Cole:       And so many times we spend more time thinking about what we want our legacy to be, rather than just be the legacy we want it to be.

Traci Morrow:  Yes. Yeah.

Mark Cole:       And so that's why I love this quote. I want to leave a committed life period. That's what I want. I want to leave a committed life.

Traci Morrow:  Yes.

Mark Cole:       I don't want to try to engineer what the family that are close to me is going to say down the road, I just want to leave a committed life.

Traci Morrow:  Yeah.

Mark Cole:       I want to believe in something so strongly Traci, that my passion and my model is what people dissect in their own way 60 years down the road.

Traci Morrow:  That's good, Mark.

Mark Cole:       I'm not looking for my birthday, July the 11th to be some fixed date in some country to remember my contribution. I want a committed life to replicate so that what I did and what I stood for carries beyond any of the things so many times we think of when we think about legacy.

Traci Morrow:  Yep.

Mark Cole:       One of the things that John did a couple of years ago is he rewrote the book Developing the leader around you. And we called it the leader's greatest return. If you're watching on YouTube, I'm holding this book up and what John's really saying in this book is how do you produce what you're about? Not how do you reproduce yourself, wouldn't the world be boring if we had all marked us? Yes, the answer is yes. But what about the things that I stand for? The influence that I have? How do we replicate that? And so even today I just wanted to bring this book to the studio because it was fresh on my mind as I was thinking about the impact 60 years later, that Martin Luther King is having.

He got a great return on his life. Did he leave us too soon? Yes. Do we still need to put in practice things he dreamt about 60 years ago, please? Yes. But did he get a return on a life well lived as he said, a committed life? Oh, you betcha. You betcha he did. And that's what each one of us wants. That's what I want for you today in honor of Martin Luther King, stand for something so strong as I said last week, that when you are done, people will want to carry it forward.

That's the goal. That's what we want. For those of you that want the book, Jake, let's try to get a percentage, some kind of a promo code for this, and maybe we'll give 15% off of you that want to buy that book. If you'll go and enter the code PODCAST in the show notes, we'll put a link there and make sure we get some kind of percentage off on that and you'll be able to get it. That's what we want.

Traci Morrow:  That's our birthday present to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mark Cole:       That's exactly right. That's exactly right. We want to return on the life we live today. Today as we close out of week two, this could go on for 52 weeks to be honest with you talking about the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. But as we close out our second week of understanding how he created positive change, my challenge to you stands for something so strong, be positive, be full of positive change to impact the world and the community around you. That will lend itself to a great return. Thank you for joining us today. Traci, as always, thank you for making this podcast so much brighter, so much better. And for Jake, you and Jared and others that have been in here to make this day possible. We thank you. We love serving alongside you the podcast family. We'll see you back next week and until then let's listen. Let's learn. Let's lead. Let's do it all in love.

1 thought on “Creating Positive Change: A Lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Part 2)”

  1. Great two part cast. MArtin was a true leader , and a leader so much his legacy still teaches young leaders like myself! Gracias
    From ecuador

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