Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?' – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 and took effect three years later. It is fitting and proper that we as a country, and we as individuals, use that day to not only reflect on a great man’s life and legacy, but to observe our own lives in relation to the values Dr. King promoted.
What values are those? Equality. Justice. Brotherhood. Teamwork. Non-violence.
So it may seem odd, as we celebrate Dr. King, to consider how his message can be translated into business, but let me suggest that he has much to teach all of us, entrepreneurs included.
Consider the following:
1. Leadership matters: One of the lessons of history is that it is easy, especially in retrospect, to look at an event and consider it “inevitable” because, well, it happened. But there was nothing inevitable about the civil rights movement, no guarantee of success. Indeed, considering both the institutional and private animas towards African Americans at that time, that Dr. King undertook the battle he did is an act of bravery rarely seen.
How did the movement succeed then? For starters, it required leadership. Dr. King was but an unknown preacher in a small Baptist church when he accepted the personal calling to make a difference. But he was willing to be brave and bold and do what he thought right.
And no, of course what we as entrepreneurs do is not akin to the work of Dr. King. However, it is analogous. As an entrepreneur, it is incumbent upon you to lead, to be brave and bold, and to encourage your team to be its best. As Dr. King said,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
2. Getting people to buy into your vision matters: Great leaders see things others often do not, and with words and action, they can inspire people to accept their vision and bring it to life. Dr. King envisioned a country where people are judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. That vision inspired millions to join him on his quest for justice and equality for everyone.
Your job is not dissimilar.
As an entrepreneur, you too need to have a vision for your enterprise and engage people to believe in it so much that they will invest in it, or will work for it, or will buy from it. It is your vision that carries the enterprise forward.
3. Empowering your team matters: There is no leader without a follower. One of the geniuses of Dr. King is that he empowered everyday people to believe, to act, to follow, even when that meant that they were risking their lives. Dr. King had successfully engaged them about his vision for peace, equality and justice – and in turn they were inspired to commit extraordinary acts of non-violence that changed history. Dr. King led, but his team believed and took action to achieve his dream.
The great entrepreneur similarly enables his or her team to do and be their best – but greatness is usually accomplished through mission, vision and purpose. Better known as the M.V.P. trifecta, which Dr. King amplified in every action and is a unique skillset entrepreneurs should strive to master. Educate your team on your enterprises mission, inform your team on your vision and empower your team with purpose.
4. Being in service matters: As Dr. King’s inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi, said,
“Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing the service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make, not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large.”
A great business doesn’t sell, it serves. Service matters. Service gets noticed and rewarded. As the life of Dr. King proves, it is service that can make a difference in your life and others.
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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