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Famous Leadership Quote

Finding the positives...

Famous Leadership Quote

Finding the positives...

“The ultimate measure of a man…”

Although he made many, it could be argued that Martin Luther King’s most famous leadership quote was that:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

In confronting one of his own personal challenges, U2 singer Bono referred to a story about King, one of the world’s most famous civil rights leaders.

Bono was asked to explain why he, a radical rock star renowned for humanitarian activism, appeared to be supporting the conservative U.S. president, George W Bush. To answer that question Bono recounted a story told to him by another famous singer: Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte told Bono about a meeting with Martin Luther King Jnr, the great, civil rights leader. At that time, the early sixties, the U.S. civil rights movement seemed to have hit a stone wall. Robert Kennedy had just been appointed U.S. attorney general. Famously disinterested in the civil rights movement, Kennedy’s appointment seemed catastrophic to King’s supporters.

At the meeting, King’s dejected team voiced their despair at the turn of events. When he’d heard enough, King slammed his hand down and ordered them all to stop. “Is there nobody here who’s got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?” The reply was that there was nothing good. To this King replied:

Well, then, let’s call this meeting closed. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass.

Dr Martin Luther King: famous leadership quoteMartin Luther King had demonstrated why he was to become one of history’s most charismatic leaders. He wouldn’t hear any more negativity about Bobby Kennedy. Instead he wanted his team to find the positives in what seemed a lost situation. These positives would be used to turn that situation around.

As it turned out, Robert Kennedy was very close to his bishop, and King’s supporters used this to their advantage. They befriended the bishop, possibly the one man who could get through to the attorney general.

This was the positive action King had been looking for and Kennedy’s change of heart was momentous. Belafonte’s story ended with these words:

When Bobby Kennedy lay dead on a Los Angeles pavement, there was no greater friend to the civil rights movement. There was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man.

Bono concluded his story.

“Whether he (Belafonte) was exaggerating or not, that was a great lesson for me, because what Dr King was saying was: “don’t respond to caricature” the left, the right, the progressives, the reactionary. Don’t take people on rumour. Find the light in them, because that will further your cause.”

Leadership Stories

For more ideas you might like to follow the links under ‘Further Reading’ to explore our collection of inspirational leadership stories. Each of these articles contains fascinating examples of leadership in action. Plus some insight from us to help you on your way!

Leading Insights

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills, take a look at one of our leadership e-guides. Leading Insights is packed with more leadership stories, and some leading insights into how they can be used! Insights such as:

  • Uncommon insights
  • Tipping point leadership
  • Find the glass
  • Leaders need to be cathedral thinkers
  • Would you recommend your service/organisation to your friends?
  • Putting on a performance
  • Would people pay to see your team perform?
  • Bricolage leadership
  • Resourceful leadership
  • Nudging leadership
  • Mirror leadership
  • Chameleon leadership
  • Catalyst leadership
  • Chrysalis leadership
  • Saliency, sagacity and serendipity
  • Infectious leadership
  • Infected leadership
  • Great work days
  • Defining moments
  • Conveying what you care about
  • The kind of goals leaders set matters
  • Motivating leaders


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