Leadership to Legacy

Reflections of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The call to courageous moments begins with a choice. Whether you consider yourself a leader by design or by reluctant selection from among the crowd, walking the path toward leadership begins with choosing to do so. And sometimes, that one choice blazes the trail for a legacy.

Consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His name is synonymous with leadership and courage. The choices he made years prior to his decision to serve as a pivotal catalyst within the Civil Rights movement carved global change for our world today. I’ve always wondered what internal conversations Dr. King may have had with God. These conversations compelled him to charge forth into the den of division that was segregation, cast vision that influenced humanity, and commit so boldly to a dream in which he believed could exist for generations to follow. As a black American woman, my life’s journey has been changed because of Dr. King’s faithfulness, obedience, and diligence to his calling to surrender his life’s mission to seek justice and equality for all people, especially suppressed people of color.

Dr. King remarked, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” His approach to non-violence was an example of how Jesus commanded us to live in John 13:34 stating, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” King’s legacy lives on through our daily decision to adopt this verse into our lives by choosing love, kindness, servant leadership, dignity, and honor towards our fellow brothers and sisters.

John 13:34 should also remind us how leadership cloaked in love and servitude builds community and connection. A good deal of Dr. King’s legacy has been centered around his incomparable “I Have a Dream” speech. Yet while the speech wields some of the most powerful verbal imagery among historic speeches, his legacy is so much more. To me, his legacy is a call to action for how we are to steward our kindred relationships with each other. Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Servant leadership is an example modeled directly by Jesus Christ to serve others without expectation. My husband often uses this phrase each day with our children: “Do the right thing because it is the right thing. And because it is the right thing, you do it.” Serving others without expectation is definitely one of those “right things.”  And, as history has proven with a life such as the one lived by Dr. King, sometimes doing what is right is far from easy, but completely worth it.

The impact of King’s legacy is a testament to his influence as a leader. Influence can be synonymous with leadership, depending on how you use it. People can be easily influenced by you, but it is your leadership example that spurs their commitment to serve alongside you.

The impact of King’s legacy is a testament to his influence as a leader.

So let’s pause there with a simple question. Would you call yourself a leader? You may have answered this question to yourself over time with the resounding answer of no, simply based on what you have seen modeled as leadership within your life experiences: a local government official, a pastor, the C-suite level neighbor down the street, or without a doubt, Dr. King. Those are leaders, you tell yourself. But let’s face it—everyone is a leader in some capacity at some point in life. Whether you were literally a line leader in school ages ago or selected to lead a team at work or contribute in a volunteer capacity, leadership exposes itself through your actions.

With the arrival of a new year, many of us take the opportunity to think about areas of improvement in our personal and professional characteristics, skills, and abilities.  I would encourage you to dedicate some time to think about your own leadership journey and how that can help you determine where God is calling you to lead and serve in this season. The following questions can assist you in your thinking:

What type of leadership qualities do I naturally possess?

Consider taking inventory of what leadership qualities you possess and others that you can commit time toward developing. You could take a personality or strengths assessment. These types of evaluations highlight areas you may already focus your efforts on growing, while also shining light on other characteristics that may be secondary to your primary standouts.

What insights can I gain from others about my leadership qualities?

Gather insights on how others perceive you in your leadership journey by asking for feedback. This can come in the form of an emailed survey of questions or a simple face-to-face conversation. No matter the method, ensure you are seeking feedback from honest, trustworthy individuals who have had the opportunity to observe you in either a leadership or service role.

Where do I go from here?

Understanding your next steps toward leadership can be daunting. So many questions may begin to swirl in your mind. I encourage you to seek God’s voice in this season of discovery. Allow His plan to unfold by committing your life in leadership to Him. Surrender your decision-making, leadership style, and influence to God for Him to mold and shape according to how He created you. While your leadership journey may not happen overnight, trust me, there is no time better than the Lord’s time! While you wait, pray. While you wait, serve. Lean into what servant leadership truly is and the rest will come to fruition according to His purpose and plan. 

May the legacy of Dr. King encourage you to build upon your legacy as a child of the Almighty God by heeding His Word and demonstrating servant leadership with love, courage, and service to others.

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Angela B. Reed is a naturally caffeinated communicator and connector who is passionate about people and the stories we all possess. She is committed to stewarding her God-given gifts as a speaker, writer, corporate program leader, and creative to connect and inspire others around the world and right next door. Angela attributes her southern upbringing as the foundation for her adoration of magnolia trees, historic homes, classic cars, and homemade lemonade!