“The leader’s unique legacy is the creation of valued institutions that survive over time (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, pg. xvi).” Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were leaders during a time of turmoil and social change. These leaders, together, and with the countless masses that supported them, transformed a generation, a people and a country. In his book, Bass describes transformational leaders as, “those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity (2006, pg. 3).”
Kouzes and Posner, renowned transformational leadership scholars, suggest that there are five practices of exemplary leaders; they “model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart (2007, pg. 14).” Both Malcolm X and King exhibited strong characteristics of the transformative leader. Both challenged the nation’s Jim Crow laws, both inspired the African-American people, and both modeled the way for their followers; Malcolm the model of a proud, educated, strong, Islamic black man and Martin the model of Christian beliefs; loving, charitable, faithful and tolerant. There were also some key differences, specifically in their vision for African-Americans.
“Malcolm X was a product of the northern, poor, black masses (Cone, 2009, pg.41).” Malcolm once famously commented, “All our experiences fuse into our personality…for me to wind up in prison was really just about inevitable (X, M., & Haley, A., 1999, pg. 378).” Malcolm’s vision was for Black Nationalism; he believed strongly in unity, self-respect, self-defense, self-love and separatism, hoping for a separate, free, black nation (Cone, 2009). He was a fiery and unapologetic speaker of the truth of the black experience in America.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was a well-educated, middle-class, devout Christian minister. His philosophy on the power of love and hope drew broadly from the Christian tradition, whereas his operational plan came from Gandhi (Cone, 2009). “He urged his people to accept their redemptive role by pursuing five objectives: self-respect, high moral standards, whole-hearted work, leadership and nonviolence (Cone, 2009, pg. 71).” King was an integrationist and believed that Negros future lie in America with equal rights and equal protection under the law.
While both men were great leaders, Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership style was more effective. His vision for integration was both optimistic and inclusive as it had appeal for both black and white audiences. He indicated it was easy for him to be optimistic because of his childhood experiences (Cone, 2009). In his article, the Leadership Advantage, Warren Bennis writes, “every exemplary leader that I have met has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism — and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results (1999).”
An angry boy came to see his Grandfather. The Grandfather told the boy that it was as if he had two wolves inside of him; one wolf that lives in harmony and has love and hope in its heart, and the other wolf that lives in anger and hate and they fight to dominate your spirit. Curious, the boy asks, “Which one will win?” His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational Leadership (2nd ed.). Mahwah, N.J. : L. Erlbaum Associates.
Bennis, W. (1999) The Leadership Advantage. Leader to Leader Institute. Retrieved March 18, 2011, from http://www.pfdf.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=53
Cone, J. H. (2009). Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or A Nightmare (19. print. ed.). Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The Leadership Challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
X, M., & Haley, A. (1999). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Ballantine Books.