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5 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Small business employee, “5 Entrepreneurial Lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.”

It has been more than 50 years since Rev. King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington. It’s an important day for our country, as we all reflect on the humanitarian’s transformative ideas and actions that catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement. We can learn a lot not just about equality and justice from this great leader, but about entrepreneurship too. What exactly can today’s entrepreneurs learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Through his vision and courageous actions to end racial segregation and discrimination, today’s entrepreneurs can learn what it takes to be a true leader, and a catalyst for change.

Here are five lessons for entrepreneurs from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

1. Have a dream. Envision it as a reality.

MLK had a dream to end racial segregation and discrimination. You should have a dream and a vision as well; a picture of what success will be at a particular time in the future. The power of being able to imagine success down the road should not be underestimated.

2. Be willing to do what you ask of others.

MLK led by his own example. He wasn’t just the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, but he got on the buses along with all of his supporters. Throughout his life, he led peaceful protests, sit-ins and marches. He didn’t whine about working for little money, he didn’t sit in a cushy corner office and he wasn’t concerned with work/life balance. As one of the great leaders in human history, he made the ultimate sacrifice to support his vision for humanity.

3. Look for a mentor.

MLK’s mentor was Dr. Benjamin Mays, a minister, educator, scholar, social activist and a past longtime president of Morehouse College, where MLK attended. MLK called him his “spiritual mentor” and “intellectual father.” Your mentor doesn’t even need to be in the same industry; you just need an ongoing dialogue of inspiration, learning and challenge.

4. Never accept the status quo.

Just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done now or in the future. In the fight for civic equality, Dr. King accomplished more in less than two decades than the previous 350 years. He didn’t call himself a visionary. He just didn’t believe that change could not be impacted. Just as real entrepreneurs don’t call themselves entrepreneurs. You just don’t do what everyone else is doing. You don’t follow the status quo, conventional wisdom or popular fads, but you carve your own unique path and are the leader of your own destiny.

5. Don’t give up.

We all know that MLK didn’t give up. When faced with adversity he peacefully–and firmly–stood his ground. Many entrepreneurs throw in the towel when the going gets rough–or give up too much equity too early for too little. Understand payroll taxes, healthcare and other important operational areas. If you don’t have the financial acumen to scale your business and attract investors, you could make poor financial decisions, get frustrated and give up. Great entrepreneurs don’t let their fear stop them from taking risks; however, one should never underestimate the power of listening to your instinct. 

We all can learn a great deal from this Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose mission was to serve others and eliminate social injustices. In your daily life as an entrepreneur, remember the sacrifices people like MLK made, so that we all can live in a free society that rewards hard work, sacrifice and dedication.

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