What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us About Continuous Improvement

Posted on January 20, 2014 | in Change Management, Leadership, Respect For People | by
martin luther king

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (photo from National Geographic)

Happy (observed) birthday, Dr. King.

I was not alive to bear firsthand witness to Dr. King’s participation in and leadership of the civil rights movement but the effect of his efforts still impacts all of us today, almost fifty years after his assassination. Without his ability to not only see the end goal of equal rights many years down the line but also to paint the picture for how everyone would drive to achieve it, the struggle over civil rights today would be so much further behind.

He and other leaders could visualize the ideal state and have the courage to not let “this is the way it has always been done” remain an excuse to not change for the better. Change requires taking risks by embarking into the unknown. Those risks can sometimes be simple, while other times taking risks can be extremely costly – as civil rights movement leaders like Dr. King, Malcolm X, and President John F. Kennedy (whose birthday is actually today) endured (albeit all unnecessarily). Dr. King’s legacy of civil disobedience in the cause of equal rights for all persons lives on far past his death.

Improvement won’t happen if we are refusing to change. Improvement necessitates change for the better – changing our expectations, changing our worldviews, changing the way we do things, changing our plans and priorities.

And change necessitates ideas, plans, investments/sacrifices, and the courage to move from what is currently deemed comfortable. Leaders of change are often ridiculed because of their courage to challenge the status quo, but that’s where historical legacies are forged.

World history is covered with change, fighting the status quo, and continuous improvement. If not for the courage to author the Declaration of Independence and the invested sacrifices of lives during the American Revolutionary War, the United States might still be a British territory. If not for the earliest of civil rights actions, the executive order of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the remaining rebellious territories during the American Civil War, the United States and the makeup of its citizens might look far different today.

Individuals such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Robert Kennedy, Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ralph Nader (yes, Ralph Nader!) were all envisioning the greater good and fought the status quo…and our lives are all better for it.

So thank you, Dr. King, for having the courage to make the world a better place.

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