Essay on Martin Luther King Jr. as Visionary and Ethical Leader

Published: 2021-07-16
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Wesleyan University
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On August 28, 1963, a black minister and a well-respected leader of the civil rights movement stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and boldly shared his vision for racial equality with over 250,000 spectators. According to Editors (2017), within his historical address, he stated that "I have a dream that my four 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." A powerful speech that became the defining point of the civil rights movement and helped liberate discriminatory barriers that segregated Americans by the color of their skin. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was a visionary and ethical leader during the Civil Rights Movement, because of his ability to effectively influence and inspire others, while maintaining true to his beliefs and values. He was skilled at applying core concepts from the lessons we studied such as Full Range Leadership, Team Dynamics, and Ethical Leadership among others. His inspirational leadership style helped change the mindset of millions and made him a well-respected leader in the African-American community.

This essay will begin by first discussing a few things that made Dr. King a visionary leader. We will cover his upbringing and how it influenced his vision, his leadership role in the Montgomery bus boycott, and the march on Washington. Then, we will analyze what made him an ethical leader by discussing the Birmingham protest and comparing Dr. King to Malcolm X in support of my view. Finally, I will conclude my synthesis essay by showing personal relevance and explaining how the core lessons that we have studied had influenced me as a leader and sharing a personal moment in my life when I lacked such specific characteristics. I will explain my personal relevance and also share a moment in my life when I exhibited ethical leadership.

Visionary Leader

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. displayed the attributes of a true visionary leader by demonstrating the diversity and full range leadership to gain loyalty and followership which enabled him to lead Americans through the Civil Rights Movement successfully. According to Editors (2017), Martin Luther King Jr. was considered an extremely intelligent child and skipped the 9th and 11th grade. Upon graduation from High School, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta at the age of 15 and earned a degree in Sociology. Dr. King's thirst for education drove him to Boston University where he received a doctorate. After the passing of his father, he later became a pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. (2016)describes diversity as a composite of individual experiences, personal life experiences, educational background, and spiritual perspectives. Unlike more extreme civil rights activist, King's multi-dimensional diversity allowed him to see the bigger picture and powered his fight for racial equality, despite the challenges he faced. Diversity was also building block for his non-violent approach, and this made him the ideal person to lead the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington.

As we learned in the Transformational Leadership core lesson, leaders inspire their followers to commit to a shared vision and goal (2016).Dr. King exhibited these traits through his compassion, determination to change the mindset of millions in getting rid of bigotry and injustice for African-Americans. According to Burns (2008), in 1955 Dr. King was elected to lead the Montgomery City bus boycott in response to the Rosa Parks bus incident. The boycott involved 382 days of walking to work while enduring harassment and violence for the African-American community in Montgomery. Eventually, after suffering a huge financial loss, the city of Montgomery rescinded the law that mandated segregated public transportation. I believe the boycott was successful mainly because of Dr. King's effective transformational leadership approach and his abilities to inspire others through motivation.

Dr. King's ability to inspire and change the mindset of others coupled with staying true to his values gave him credibility that all visionary leaders require. However, Dr. King's most memorable accomplishment occurred on August 28, 1963, when he led the unforgettable march on Washington and addressed more than 200,000 spectators in front of the Lincoln Memorial. On this day, Martin Luther King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech, which shook the core of America when he cemented his vision that one day all men and women could be treated equally. I believe the multi-dimensional diversity that Dr. King gained through education, religion, and personal experiences played a critical role in shaping his vision. His ability to inspire others using transformational leadership, help mold him into a well-respected visionary leader for the African-American community.

Ethical Leader

Dr. King was also considered a moral leader because he embodied the concept of "three P's" and was a master at free thinking. According to (2016), ethics is defined as "a set of standards of conduct that guide decisions and actions based on duties derived from core values." Over the course of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King was adamant about setting the right example and living by what he preached. In 1963 Dr. King faced a major ethical dilemma when he chose to lead a civil rights protest in Birmingham, Alabama, despite knowing the potential harm he could face by going to jail (Hughes, n.d.). During this protest, Martin Luther King was arrested and sent to jail together with several others for failing to follow a court order. Dr. King, in this event, clearly demonstrated the concept of three Ps. He placed his principles first when he decided to go against the court's order. King felt that the purpose of the protest outweighed the consequences and that the teamwork from his people would help them effectively communicate their important message.

As described by The Atlantic Editors (2013), while confined in jail Dr. King wrote a persuasive letter that would later be referred to as the "Letter from Birmingham Jail." In this letter, he wrote, "I am in Birmingham because injustices are hereI am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." To me, this quote highlights Dr. King's determination and ethical leadership he was admired for.

To better explain why Dr. King was a noble leader; I think it would be of importance to compare him to Malcolm X, a fellow civil rights activist. Munir, (2015) argued, that although Dr. King and Malcolm X were fighting for the same things, their values and leadership styles were completely different. While Dr. King believed in using a non-violent approach, Malcolm X was convinced that without violence no real progress could be made. As we learned in our Ethics core lesson (2016), I believe what made Martin Luther King an ethical leader and not Malcolm, is that one followed the three O's of Ethics principles and the other did not.

To further elaborate, Dr. King believed that regardless of what was going on, everyone had to be respected and treated equally as human beings. Malcolm X believed that respect was earned and not given, and his loyalties lied with the Nation of Islam. It was apparent that Dr. King's ordering was in line with his vision because he put the civil rights movement before other agendas in his life. He displayed the outing principle, when he led the march to Montgomery, despite knowing the possible dangers he could have faced. I believe that because Dr. King lived by the "three P" and "three O" principles he was able to set a perfect example for his followers. He was not easily influenced or deterred from his vision which demonstrated to his supporters he was indeed a true ethical leader.

Personal Relevance

Dr. King's leadership behaviors made me analyze my own leadership characteristics and think about what I can do better to improve myself and unit's effectiveness. Diversity is one of my biggest strengths. Like Dr. King, I've been exposed to a variety of education, religions, deployments, and personal experiences which have enabled me to establish credibility with my subordinates. Additionally, my diversity has allowed me to provide meaningful mentorship to my subordinates. Last month, for example, one of my subordinates came to me about some concerns he had on deployment. However, after sharing some of my experiences in that particular subject and the steps I took, he told that he had felt relieved and most of his worries had gone.

On another occasion, I remember having to choose someone to attend a physically demanding joint PME course on the island; diversity allowed me to look past gender and race, then select the best person based on the merit, skills, and motivation. As a leader, it's important to be diverse in order to understand how to motivate and organize my team. During my research on Dr. King, I realized that I could use transformation leadership as an improvement on my part, to shape my organization. Like Dr. King, I need to work more on inspiring others to share the unit's vision. Personally, it's important that my subordinates understand why change is required and the impacts it will have on them and the mission. My goal in future is to be more self-aware when communicating my unit's vision to ensure my message is received positively and effectively.


Throughout this essay, we have discussed Dr. King's upbringing and how it helped mold his vision. We also talked about his leadership roles in the Montgomery City bus boycott and on Washington and why his leadership in these events helped solidify him as a visionary leader. We then transitioned into the ethical part of this essay and provided supporting evidence that backed my claim. Dr. King's involvement in the Birmingham Protest showed that he was a man of his principles and regardless the challenges he faced, he was still determined to do the right thing. Afterward, we compared Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and showed why one was considered ethical, and the other was not. Finally, I showed personal relevance and provided examples from recent mentoring sessions and decisions I made to highlight further what those characteristics meant to me as a leader. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not a perfect man but was a visionary and ethical leader. He believed in non-violent approach, and it was evident when he said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

References Editors. (2017). Martin Luther King Jr. The website. Retrieved

The Atlantic. (2013). Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter From Birmingham Jail'. The Atlantic. Retrieved

Munir, H. (2015). Meeting in the Middle: The Forgotten Relationship of Malcolm X and MLK Jr. Retrieved

Burns, S. (2008). Montgomery Bus Boycott. Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved

Hughes, L. (n.d.). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. America's Story from America's Library. Retrieved


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