Martin Luther King’s Lessons for Diversity and Leadership

Much will be written this week about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ongoing influence upon our society. In both substantial and subtle ways, King’s beliefs and actions continue to serve as a lens through which we assess and refine how we approach our everyday lives.

King’s messages of social justice and fairness—and the way he epitomized great leadership—have always resonated with our team at Witt/Kieffer. As we support clients in their efforts to recruit top leaders into their organizations, we draw inspiration from King to emphasize and prioritize diversity in leadership. We truly believe that successful, progressive leadership teams must bring with them myriad backgrounds and viewpoints and be representative of the varied constituencies that they serve.

These sentiments are crystallized in our Diversity Statement:

Witt/Kieffer believes a culture of diversity and inclusion, where the entire range of human experience is welcomed and celebrated, can strengthen and transform organizations. We strive to model this belief in our work and service to our clients. 

As we celebrate Martin Luther King this week, a few members of Witt/Kieffer’s Diversity Committee agreed to share favorite quotes and thoughts on King’s legacy in regards to leadership:

Lucy Leske: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I think great leadership is about speaking the truth, helping others to see and embrace truth, and then acting on truth to inspire people to make the world a better place for all human beings.

Wendy McLeod: Most of us have heard of the “trickle effect.” One thing, good or bad, has the potential to affect many lives, perhaps hundreds, thousands or more. When you ponder the number of lives Dr. King has touched, it is staggering. Speeches, boycotts, marches, campaigns, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, exposed millions to a broader view of their fellow man/woman. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Meditating on those words can help us appreciate that in the most basic sense, Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted people to treat others as they want to be treated. If we all remember this, the trickle effect can be astronomical.

Michelle Lee: My biggest takeaway from Martin Luther King is that we need to take society to a level of understanding of making things just for all, not necessarily equal. Equal is oftentimes not fair, depending on an individual’s or group’s starting point. My favorite quotation from Dr. King: “Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” I also like: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy.” Leadership often means standing apart from the crowd and staying true to your principles at all times.

Werner Boel: The first thing that always comes to my mind is, “I have a dream . . . ” I think he reminds us all that there is a way to overcome adversity through maintaining an open dialogue and standing firmly when it comes to justice and doing the right thing. We all have a role to play and each of us can make a difference. Developing understanding in a collaborative and non-threatening way, taking a step back but remaining committed to doing the right thing is what jumps out to me. As somebody who did not grow up in the U.S., I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities provided to me regardless of my country of origin. Integration and inclusion gets us all much further along than when we limit ourselves to our own silo.

Jim King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy.” When we face challenges and adversity, true leaders step up and lead through the tough times and will do what is right and just even when it is not going to be the popular choice. They do not sit back and remain silent and take the easy way out.

Jim Gauss: “Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” Witt/Kieffer’s largest area of focus is in healthcare, and it is important we take stock of those we serve, and to remember that while we have made great strides, our field still has much work to do in closing the diversity and disparities gap.

Enjoy Martin Luther King Day and appreciate the many ways he continues to inspire our lives. In closing, allow me to share a quote which resonates with me: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

The Witt & Wisdom Team

 

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