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Leading from the Inside-Out

How can we honor and respect the legacy of a great leader like Martin Luther King, Jr.?

We can march like Dr. King. We can speak great words like Dr. King. We can stand up to unjust laws and give up our freedom like Dr. King.

These are all great ways we can emulate a great leader like MLK. But there is another way we can honor him in our own lives. We can apply the leadership lesson of having a vision for our life and leading from the inside-out.

The Start of a Vision

At age 15, Martin Luther King, Jr. was prepared to enter Morehouse College. He spent the summer working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut to help pay for his studies. This is where his vision for what was possible truly started taking shape.

North of the Mason-Dixon line, Martin experienced the pleasures of eating in any restaurant he desired, sitting in whatever train seat he wanted, and using the same restrooms as people from different races. This experience not only helped form his vision but agitated him enough to take action to make his dream a reality. His actions started flowing from the beliefs he held inside.

He began leading from the inside-out.

A Vision of WHO We Could Be

There may not be a greater example of a leader with vision than Martin Luther King, Jr. After these incidents in his early life, he formed a vision for the type of leader he wanted to be and the world he wanted to live in. He would be a leader who maintained his values and principles while changing the world for the better.

But Martin also had a vision for the society in which he lived. He called it the “beloved community.” This would be a world where people lived alongside each other in harmony. MLK knew it would never work if people simply acted out of a forced nature in order to obey laws. Rather, he knew it must be an inside-out process that came out of the desires of their own hearts.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. King didn’t say he had a dream about having the wealthiest nation in the world, or the strongest, most powerful nation in the world. His dream…his vision…was for WHO the people of America would be.

Did he want political equality for African Americans? Yes.

Did he want economic equality for African Americans? Yes.

But none of that equality would matter if it came only as the result of people obeying laws they didn’t agree with. Martin’s true vision of America was for a community of people who lived from the inside-out as brothers and sisters out of their own free will.

Who Are We Becoming in the Process?

Is it okay to have a destination goal of WHAT we want to do or WHERE we want to be? Absolutely!

We all have desires, passions, and interests. In every good story the main character has something they want…a goal they want to achieve. Dr. King wanted to end segregation and discrimination. But even if he was able to achieve those goals of WHAT and WHERE it would all be for nothing if the American people didn’t change WHO they were.

While we may have destination goals we strive for, we need to make sure we are becoming WHO we want to be along the way. What we can’t do is say, “Once I make it to my destination, THEN I will be the person I want to be.” This is the opposite of living from the inside-out.

It is okay to desire a certain job or a particular place we want to live or work. We just cannot let the WHO be sacrificed for the WHAT and the WHERE.

If we are chasing a certain job, or a paycheck, or some kind of social standing then we need to ask ourselves, “Is my pursuit of this destination helping me in the process of becoming WHO I truly want to be? Or is it taking me further away from my vision?”

Giving Up Our Beliefs

And leading from the inside-out may require us to give up some of the beliefs we have held for a long time.

When he was a boy, Martin Luther King, Jr. became angry after one of his playmates was no longer allowed to spend time with him. The boy was white and his parents didn’t want him playing Martin because he was black. But the circumstances he experienced in the North as a teenager helped change Martin’s beliefs. He knew he did not want to live with anger and bitterness.

Rather than focusing on the problems of the world, Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to focus on a vision of how he believed the world should be and that he hoped one day it would be. And it was this vision that prompted him to take action to try to make his dream become a reality.

So How About You?

Can you analyze your beliefs and select ONE you feel is holding you back?

How will changing this ONE belief impact some action you take (or don’t take) on a daily basis.

Can you write down a new statement of belief, carry it with you throughout the day, and refer to it when you catch yourself falling into your old belief pattern?

At the end of the day, can you reflect on whether having a new belief affected your actions and allowed you to lead from the inside-out?

Lead in Our Unique Way

Today’s challenge is a great reminder about how we can write our own stories. If we aren’t getting the results we want or we feel scared to take action, we need to go back to our mindset fundamentals like having a vision. And we need to do some inside-out work to correct our beliefs. We need to have a vision with beliefs that will help us pursue our dreams rather than hold us back.

In our own way, we can march like Dr. King, we can speak like Dr. King, and we can stand up like Dr. King. We do that by using our gifts and abilities to write our own story from the inside-out. When we do, we will Lead for Impact and make a difference in the world in our unique way.

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Jon Barth

Jon Barth

Teacher - Coach - Mentor

I love to share stories, tools, and resources to help students become leaders who make a difference in the world by giving away their gifts and abilities.

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