“Separate but equal”. In the mid-1950 and 1960’s, this was the term coined by our government to explain the legally sanctioned practice of discrimination in the United States. One man, however, decided that these practices were unjust and began one of the largest social movements in United States history. How one man was able to lead a nation into an era of such massive social change? It could be said that Martin Luther King Jr. possessed the traits indicative of a true leader. According to extensive research that has been conducted on leadership traits, it has been found that most successful leaders possess five factors of personality (Big Five): neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness (Northouse, 2013). Of the “Big Five” traits, Martin Luther King Jr. most illustrated extraversion through his ability to be assertive, sociable and most importantly positive.
Shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s first appointment as a preacher in Montgomery, Alabama (which was regarded as the epicenter of institutionalized racial segregation in the United States at the time) he realized that the situation was not right and made a vow to his congregation to change it, stating that he planned to “…somehow lead men and women to the high mountain of peace and salvation.” (Phillips, 1998). From early on in his career, Martin Luther King Jr. revealed his assertiveness. The issue in Montgomery, Alabama was not secluded, however, so Martin Luther King Jr., would have to reach a large audience that spanned across an entire nation.
Although Martin Luther King Jr. began as a preacher at a small congregation in the South, he quickly joined social outlets in order to reach the people. From becoming an executive at the local chapter of the NAACP, to joining the Planned Parenthood Federation and the Alabama Council on Human Relations to becoming president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, MLK made himself quite visible and accessible to his public (Phillips, 1998). Even in the Montgomery bus boycott, MLK rode with his people, as one of them, on their quest for positive social change (Phillips, 1998). MLK’s actions spurred peaceful protests around the country, which culminated with over 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington where he delivered his most famed speech, “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial (Phillips, 1998). Just a year later, the Civil Rights of Act of 1964 was signed, officially banning institutionalized segregation and discrimination!
Ultimately, Martin Luther King Jr. majorly impacted the United States, essentially re-writing history, through his extroverted personality. He was assertive in his words and actions, was sociable by joining multiple groups and becoming highly active in his community and most importantly he was a champion of positive social change –eventually leading the African American population to freedom in their own country (Phillips, 1998). Understanding the traits possessed by exemplary leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., can be applied to other situations outside social change. Perhaps you lead a team at work or at school, own your own business and strive to lead your company, the quality needed to successfully do so remains constant: extroversion.
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Philips, D. T. (1998). Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership: Inspiration & Wisdom for Challenging Times. New York: Warner Books.