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Leadership Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January 16, 2012

Today, we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We acknowledge and celebrate the greatness that has come before us. As a diversity practitioner, it is cause for so much more. It provides an opportunity to draw on Reverend King’s inspiration and to learn from the leadership lessons evident in his words and actions.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, without question, a leader.

What defines the leadership qualities we recognize in him and other great leaders like him? It is not about his ability to manage people or get things done. Rather, it was his willingness to challenge the status quo and serve as an agent of change. Dr. King recognized a grave injustice in the world and leveraged his privilege in the community to inspire action in the masses. At great risk to himself, he took a public stance, utilized his strengths as an inspirational orator, and advocated for action again and again. He was not a government official and held no position of power, but accomplished what only the greatest of leaders could accomplish.

I think the most important lesson I have taken away from this reflection is that there is a potential leader in all of us. We do not need a specific job title, we do not need to be at a specific level in our company, and we do not need to hold a position of power to be an agent of change. We need more employees at all levels to take a leadership stance, to be part of the process of creating a better way, and to feel empowered to take risks. This becomes particularly relevant when we look at the work of diversity and inclusion. A diversity practitioner title is not required to be part of this effort. In fact, this work is essentially the responsibility of everyone and therefore provides great opportunity to anyone who is willing to assume the responsibility and take the risk.

Our roles as diversity practitioners is to ensure that we are a part of the improvement process of creating organizations where everyone feels empowered to be part of the solution. Where difference is nurtured in a way that leads to great innovation and dramatic change. We need to create opportunities for individuals across the organization to gain the knowledge and the confidence to serve as a leader in D&I efforts.

As I take stock in my own work and question my role and effectiveness in being part of the change process, I feel a sense of validation. In my work, I’ve always tried to be at the forefront of the D&I change process. While I do not hold a CDO position or lead an internal D&I strategy, I do play a key role in my consulting work and my work as the co-director of Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion to ensure that powerful resources and learning opportunities are available for leaders from all functions within the organization. The 2012 Institute supports my personal mission of driving tangible change by cultivating the D&I leader in everyone.

Robin Pedrelli

Robin Pedrelli is the co-founder of VisionSpring, Inc., and the co-director of Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion.




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