Monday, January 12, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. On Leadership by Donald T Phillips

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. made a valuable contribution to America and the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Much has been written on his life and speeches so is there a need for yet another book on the freedom fighter from Atlanta?

Distinctive Features
Author, Donald T Phillips thinks there is a need for a book that focuses on King as an effective leader and Martin Luther King, Jnr. on Leadership is the result. Phillips, in his book which was published in 1998, commences with King’s own words which establish the Baptist preacher’s conviction about the importance of leadership:

“People are often led to causes and often become committed to great ideas through persons who personify those ideas. They have to find embodiment of the idea in flesh and blood in order to commit themselves.” (Feb. 13, 1961).

Phillips is a prominent writer and speaker in the field of leadership studies so his previous books, including Lincoln on Leadership and The Founding Fathers on Leadership, as well as his knowledge of contemporary leadership gurus (Senge, Covey and Gardner), give to this book some historical reference points and richness.

The author is a captivating and inspiring storyteller who retells the King story in a comprehensive manner with extensive footnotes, an index and a bibliography to point serious students further. The distinctive contribution of this book is the fresh look at King through the lens of leadership as Phillips boils down the principles that will help emerging leaders.

In the introduction Phillips presents an outline of King’s life which will impress readers with the author’s intimate knowledge of his subject’s work and writings. Those who have studied many books on King’s life will surely discover new features. For instance, I had overlooked in my previous reading of King’s life the matter of his suicide attempts when he was a boy. The introduction and the body of this book also reveal clearly King’s orientation toward action, and his unwillingness to think the job was done when delivering fancy sermons and orations.

The author breaks down the subject into chronological sections: Preparing to Lead, Guiding the Movement, Winning with People and Ensuring the Future.

The sixteen chapters appear are entitled as maxims for aspiring leaders e.g. First Listen: Lead by being Led; Learn, Learn, Learn; Master the Art of Public Speaking and Encourage Creativity and Innovation.

Each chapter concludes with a one page summary with bullet points on the leadership principles that arise from the King leadership style.

Many will find it helpful but some readers will tire of the author’s propensity to convert or conclude the narrative with ‘5 Steps’, ’10 Points’ or ‘six strategies’.

Being part of a Business/Management genre (that also comes as an audiobook) the tone of this book is predictably admiring and upbeat. Phillips cites King’s initial reluctance when he was catapulted into leadership early in his work in Montgomery but the author rarely explores or highlights his subject’s flaws or weaknesses, an area that might make King more human and more accessible as a hero that budding leaders might follow.

Donald T Phillips, Martin Luther King, Jnr. on Leadership: Inspiration and Wisdom for Challenging Times (New York: Warner Business Books, 1998).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 75.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Martin Luther King, Jnr. on Leadership.