Today our nation honors a great man: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was able to open the eyes of our country to the ways other Americans were being treated. He challenged the cultural norms that had been in place and forever changed the face of civil rights for millions of people. He did all of this by influencing others with a message of love and peace.
I remember reading about how blacks were forced to use different facilities and not even permitted into other facilities back in those days and I felt angry and ashamed. How could we beat our chest as a great super power and not have the strength to reverse an archaic mindset. I tried to imagine how I would feel if my family was treated that way. I certainly do not think “peace” or “love” would be in my vocabulary.
Dr. King displayed what leadership and integrity truly are. He knew people were the same regardless of the color of their skin and wanted everyone to share his dream of one nation. He knew the nation needed to be united even though they may not have wanted to be. To accomplish something of this scale requires a servant leader. This is a foreign concept to many people and this style of leadership is not discussed in the PDG or even the Leadership Doctrine of the Air Force.
Servant leadership does not sound sexy; however, those who serve their teams are the most influential leaders. This style of leadership calls leaders to serve their team’s needs not their own wants. Many confuse this style of leadership as being soft pushovers. In reality, it takes more strength than other styles. Servant leaders have to be humble enough to listen to others and seek out their legitimate needs in order to fulfill them.
When leaders lead by flexing their power over others, they are commanding the bodies of their teams. Their people are with them because they are following orders. We have all worked for the boss with the “shut up and color” mantra when suggestions were made. Their ego could not allow for another to have a suggestion or offer an opinion or state a need.
“Call them in from their day off,” was the direction I was given when our manpower was low one particular weekend. I used my imagination and found another way to get things done and never made the call. When I briefed my plan I was questioned about if I was afraid to be a NCO and make the tough calls. My reply was a question to them about how they liked giving up their time off. This leader was more concerned with flexing his power rather than taking care of his team’s need for rest.
When a leader is willing to go the extra mile to protect your needs and to remove obstacles from your path, you can focus on the mission at hand and not be afraid of the consequences of challenging a power hungry boss who has forgotten the mission is not about them. Dr. King knew this and inspired the nation as he represented the need for unity. Groups like the Black Panthers who were trying to make power plays were being answered with power. However, when Dr. King led with humble strength, he could not be ignored. In fact, even attacks against someone like this were looked at with disgust by the masses.
The result of servant leadership? In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, he was able to change the course of human history by influencing the hearts and minds of those who were in power. He was able to affect more change in a few short years than we saw in the 100 years after the ending of the Civil War where slavery had officially ended. Using power over another might produce short term victories; however, to create a following that will never let you fail takes leadership with a heart of a servant.