10 Success lessons from Martin Luther King – “American Hero” for entrepreneurs

The work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. changed lives across the United States (and arguably) around the world. His influence advanced civil rights during a turbulent time in the country’s history and brought to the forefront the tribulations segregation inflicted on African Americans.

The larger-than-life leadership lessons that Dr. King gave the world that are as important for entrepreneurs today as they were during Dr. King’s life.

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Here are the 10 success lessons from Martin Luther King – “American hero” for entrepreneurs,

1. Pursue your dreams

Without a doubt, the quote that most people associate with Dr. King comes from his historic 1963 speech: “I have a dream.” Dreams are powerful, and can serve as great motivators – but they are only meaningful if we act on them.

Such a phenomenon is quite common vis-à-vis business – how many great products were never invented – or were invented by people other than those who originally conceived of them – because someone was afraid of pursuing his or her dreams?

2. Expect to work hard

Dr. King and many others spent years of their lives in order to make the Civil Rights movement succeed. Without their efforts who knows what America might look like today? While there may be some lucky people who succeed in business without much effort, such individuals are far and few in between. And, in most cases, the people whom we think succeeded without much effort actually worked quite hard to accomplish their achievements.

3. Develop strategic partnerships

Dr. King made sure to align visible support from like-minded leaders outside of the African American community – an effort that magnified the civil rights message and helped it influence more people faster than would have been possible otherwise. If the right partners are chosen, strategic alignments with influencers can dramatically help most businesses.

4. Learn the power of organization

It’s not an easy feat to organize a social movement amid staunch opposition, government interference, and huge logistical challenges. Yet King successfully faced and surmounted those obstacles throughout his very public career, especially when he spearheaded the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in the mid-1960s.

5. Adaptability

King displayed his unmatched ability to adapt to any circumstances throughout his public life. Regardless of the cards he and his Movement’s followers were dealt, King deftly adjusted his strategy. From the march from Selma to Birmingham to his Birmingham letter, King was never dispirited in the face of adversity.

King was also able to do something that none of his peers or predecessors had accomplished by effectively uniting the many disparate groups who shared the common goal of attaining equal Civil Rights for all.

6. Big changes happen

It may be hard for those of us who were born well after the Civil Rights Act was passed to truly comprehend from an emotional perspective, but at the time that the Civil Rights movement began the idea that laws that discriminated based on race would be outlawed probably seemed crazy to many people; widespread racism had been a part of American society for centuries. But, like so many other status quos that we think can never change, they changed.

7. Build A large following

Dr. King was an amazing speaker who inspired millions of people with his words. But, ultimately, it was those large numbers of people who organized, marched, or otherwise influenced legislators and the public. There is little doubt that the grassroots nature of the civil rights movement – and the resulting far reach of its leaders – was a key ingredient in its success. In the Internet era it is much easier than the 1960s to reach large numbers of people; if you have a great message – spread it widely.

8. Have total  commitment to your cause

Dr. King was a visionary. He was a man who had a dream bigger than the times in which he lived. That is, after all, what real visionary leaders are all about. Dr. King’s stance on political activism in a non-violent way made him a natural leader and an inspirational figure. He led a social movement of equality during a time when he wasn’t supported by most.

9. Look for a mentor

Dr. King’s mentor was Dr. Benjamin Mays, a minister, educator, scholar, social activist and a past longtime president of Morehouse College, where MLK attended. King called him his “spiritual mentor” and “intellectual father.” Your mentor doesn’t even need to be in the same industry; you just need an ongoing dialogue of inspiration, learning and challenge.

10. Never accept the status quo

Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done now or in the future. In the fight for civic equality, Dr. King accomplished more in less than two decades than a previous 350 years had produced. He didn’t call himself a visionary. He just didn’t believe that change could not be effected. Just as real entrepreneurs don’t call themselves entrepreneurs. You just don’t do what everyone else is doing. You don’t follow the status quo, conventional wisdom or popular fads, but you carve your own unique path and are the leader of your own destiny.