Conviction… the mark of a leader

Martin Luther King Jr. was completely committed to the method of non-violent resistance in his effort to eliminate segregation as a way of life for the black community.

He was often opposed by his own peers and constantly had to stand against those who would have chosen violence over non-violence.

Once, when asked about this he responded,

People have said to me, ‘Since violence is the new cry, isn’t there a danger that you will lose touch with the people in the ghetto and be out of step with the times if you don’t change your views on non-violence?’

My answer is always the same. While I am convinced that the vast majority of Negroes reject violence, even if they did not I would not be interested in being a consensus leader. I refuse to determine what is right by taking a Gallup poll of the trends of the time.

Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. If every Negro in the United States turns to violence, I will choose to be that one lone voice preaching that this is the wrong way. Maybe this sounds like arrogance. But it is not intended that way. It is simply my way of saying that I would rather be a man of conviction than conformity. Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in non-violence.

A few takeaways from this quote:

  • Your commitment to the cause (whatever that may be for you) will be called into question by those seeking consensus or those concerned more with popularity than the cause.
  • Your commitment to the vision will make you unpopular at some point.
  • There will be points in your leadership journey where you may have to stand alone (or so it will seem).
  • Conforming is the first step in abandoning the vision. Conviction is the first step towards achieving it. Do NOT compromise your vision when under pressure to conform, water it down, temper it, or adjust it.

If you are leading and are under pressure:

  • Look up to God
  • Look into your heart
  • Look around to those who give you counsel
  • Look ahead to the vision of what can be
  • And keep pressing on. Don’t stop! Don’t be discouraged!

For those who lead in this way, the words of the old Negro spiritual , We Shall Overcome, are much more likely to come true for you.

Check out Martin Luther King Jr.’s autobiography here.

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