12 Leadership Qualities of Martin Luther King

In this post, we’ll analyze the leadership traits and qualities of Martin Luther King Jr.

In fact, Martin Luther King remains well known due to his leadership role during the civil rights movement.

Let’s dive right in and explore his leadership traits.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Martin Luther King, Jr.


If a person does not believe in a cause, the audience can see it.

When Martin Luther King spoke to people, he spoke with determination.

He was willing to fight for his beliefs, and it could be heard in the tone of his voice.

His sheer determination instantly inspired other people to feel the same way. This makes it one of the most important leadership qualities.

When leaders do not truly believe in what they are fighting for or doing, they tend to lack determination. This often results in people not following them.

If someone doesn’t believe in what they are doing, why should other people?


Confidence is key in being a leader. As a leader, you’ll have to speak with confidence and intelligence in order for many people to listen to you.

People are less likely to follow people who do not have leadership characteristics and traits associated with them having self-confidence.

People with self-confidence are more likely to be respectful towards other people.

They do not shy away from expressing their creativity.

Individuals with higher self-esteem are more likely to have higher communication skills as well.

We see this when we think of leaders like Martin Luther King. He expressed confidence time and time again as he organized movements.

During speeches, his words were spoken with both clarity and conviction.


King showed a tremendous amount of respect towards other people throughout his life.

His home was bombed.

People attacked him and spit in his face.

However, Martin Luther King believed strongly in non-violent protests. Regardless of how other people treated him, he continued this belief and did not resort to violence himself.

When a person has respect, it speaks more about their character than any words possibly can.

Having enough self-control and respect to maintain your composure while someone tears you and your family down is an admirable quality and one that has been seen in several leaders throughout history.


Martin Luther King was a brilliant man.

This is one of the key leadership characteristics and traits that we see again and again in leaders throughout history.

Intelligence is important because leaders are expected to know quite a bit. As you continue to become a better leader, you’ll find that you’re expected to learn more than you already know about your cause.

As you fight for a cause, you’ll quickly discover that you need to be capable of learning new things and new skills.

You might have to learn new ways of communicating or speaking to make sure that you can get through to your audience, for example.


A quote from Martin Luther King that is of particular interest states, “…the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.”

This quote does not reference the creativity we see in artists and dancers.

Instead, it refers to individuals that think outside of the box.

The people that make their own path through the woods instead of staying on the trail.

Creative leaders can think of things differently, which helps them create change in areas that others did not know was possible.

Knowing the Course of Action

No matter what your goal is, make sure that you know how you will get to the finish line.

You should have a solid road map in your mind of what you would like to accomplish and how you plan on doing just that.

Before beginning anything, you should know the goal you are trying to achieve.

Don’t use negative words and ignore negative thoughts such as “I can’t.” Think of your goal before you come up with a plan.

Next, take the time to determine what you need to do to reach your goal.

The steps that you need to take will determine your course of action.

Even if you possess all of the leadership qualities possible, it will not matter unless you know how to reach your goals.

Working With Allies

This is one of the most critical leadership qualities we have seen in Martin Luther King.

He did not merely give public speeches.

Martin Luther King worked closely with leaders of ministries and in the community.

He worked with people in the White House to help push his agenda forward.

You see this everywhere, from the workplace to the community.

For example, in the workplace, you will see both managers and assistant managers working together.

They also work with employees to accomplish a common goal, such as keeping the store clean or ensuring that stock stays caught up.

Focussing on the Goal

As a leader, Martin Luther King had one primary goal: to achieve equality for all races. He did not stray from this goal.

It can be easy to accidentally fall off the path you have set for yourself. If a lot of people do not follow you in the beginning, it can feel discouraging.

However, that is when you need to use your determination to keep pushing yourself forward.

If you keep focusing on your goals, you will continue to achieve them.

Communicating the Dream

You need to be able to communicate with other people.

Communication skills are invaluable and one of the critical leadership qualities you need.

When a person stutters through selling their idea to other people, it gives the impression that they are not confident in what they would like to accomplish.

We all know of the famous speech in which Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream….”

He delivered this speech with confidence.

His communication skills were amazing.

Public speaking skills are always wonderful to have as well. All of these can be grouped under communication.


Empathy played an important role in Martin Luther King’s striving to make his dream come true.

Often, people confuse empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy involves feeling sorry for someone.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to genuinely understand their point of view and feelings.

As a leader, you will need to be able to empathize with people.

When you understand where your audience is coming from, you can tailor your speaking, speeches, and more to suit their needs.

This will help you reach out to more people, therefore becoming more successful as a leader.

People will want to follow you when you possess a leadership quality like empathy.

Encouraging Involvement

Martin Luther King kept people involved in his cause. He encouraged people to participate in peaceful protests.

Everyone knew that they were a part of something important, and they felt as though they were a part of the movement due to their involvement.

As a leader, you should incorporate this same thing into your cause. When striving to reach a goal, involve the people that support you.

Everyone will feel important, and they will actively participate in reaching that goal.

Focus on everyone being a team. When you work together as a team, you can accomplish great things.

If you are a manager at the store, emphasize that teamwork is important. You are all an essential part of working towards a common goal.

Willingness to Learn

Learning is a lifelong process. Martin Luther King continued to learn as he led people during the civil rights movement.

This involved learning from the politicians and other leaders that he worked with. He learned about his audience and followers through communication and working with them.

Individuals who attempt to lead while thinking they know everything will quickly discover that they are not the best at leading.

This is because people have the impression that they are arrogant or do not empathize with them.

Instead, understand that you can, and will, always learn new things.

In Conclusion

The most important leaders in history all had several things in common with Martin Luther King.

They possessed a few leadership qualities and knew how to work with people to inspire and motivate them.

More than anything, they gave people hope.

As you strive to become a better leader, focus on developing determination and courage.

Nurture your creativity, and always be respectful.

Work on communication skills, be empathetic, and always encourage others.

Remember, the only thing more powerful than fear is hope.

Martin Luther King Jr. was an exceptional transformational leader.

About the Author
Hi there, I'm James, founder of Melbado. I have over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. Recently, I turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via our contact page.


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