The art of leadership: From Marcus Aurelius to Martin Luther King

The management consulting industrial complex has peddled many theories - transformational, servant, visionary etc - but is leadership really a lot simpler than that?

by Paul Simpson

“In a real sense, America is essentially a dream – a dream yet unfulfilled. It is the dream of a land where men of all races, colours and creeds will live together as brothers.” 

If those words ring a bell, it’s probably because, significantly reworked, they appeared in one of the most resonant, most quoted and most influential pieces of 20th century oratory: Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on 28 August 1963, to 250,000 civil rights supporters, King’s eloquent address has inspired its own legends.

The famous peroration – “I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls” – is reputed to have been inspired spontaneously by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s cry of “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” It is true that King did depart from his prepared text but those famous words did not, as Jean Hartley, professor of public leadership at the Open University points out, emerge suddenly from nowhere like a lightning bolt of inspiration.

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