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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Flakes, PE

12 Inspiring Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. That Can Help in Your Career

Martin Luther King at the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and activist who led a nonviolent civil rights movement in America from 1954 to 1968 to protest racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. Under King’s servant and transformational leadership, the civil rights movement ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Every year, on King’s birthday or death anniversary, Americans reflect on his words. During this time, Americans will recall their favorite quote and reflect on the significance of his words.

Although Americans often emphasize how King’s words remain relevant today, we sometimes fail to guide how to put his words into practice.

This blog post attempts to identify some of Martin Luther King Jr.’s greatest quotes and relate them to the workplace. This post also provides some practical tips that can help professionals put King’s esteemed words into practice.

1. Taking the High Road

"Let no man pull you so low as to hate him." – MLK’s 1956 “The Most Durable Power” sermon

Conflict is often unavoidable in the workplace. If a coworker offends you, sometimes it is best to set your ego aside and take the high road. As former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Professional Plus tips for addressing conflict with a coworker before taking the high road:

  • Focus on the positive

  • Learn their perspective

  • Ask a trusted colleague for their advice

  • Talk to your manager

  • Practice empathy

  • Learn to accept their personality

  • Address the issue respectfully

If all else fails, you may be required to take a more diplomatic approach (taking the high road), even if it is not easy.

Further Reading:

2. Consensus Building

"Ultimately, a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus." – MLK’s November 1967 “The Domestic Impact of the War in Vietnam” speech

In a consensus, all members work towards developing a solution that benefits the entire team. Reaching a consensus, however, can be complex and requires team leaders to be actively involved in building a consensus. Strong leadership is important when “molding” a consensus because, without solid leadership, consensus building can lead to confusion and indecision.

Professional Plus Tips for building a consensus:

  • Collaborate

  • Brainstorm ideas

  • Negotiate

  • Lobby

  • Be an effective listener

Further Reading:

3. Conscientiousness

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” – MLK’s February 1968 “A Proper Sense of Priorities” speech

A conscientious person is someone who wishes to do what is right. He or she especially desires to do dutiful and thorough work. Sometimes, we must trust our conscience when making difficult decisions that affect others at work.

Professional Plus tips for making difficult decisions:

  • Know what your objectives are

  • Collaborate

  • Collect data

  • Search for alternatives

  • Weigh your options

  • Consider future outcomes

If you have employed the tips above and still have trouble deciding, you may need to act on your conscience.

Further Reading:

4. Conviction

“Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end." – MLK’s book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”

A conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion. Leading with conviction requires courage. One must be genuine, principled, and steady with one's opinion.

Professional Plus Tips

  • Be consistent

  • Be sincere

  • Manage your ego

  • Be unafraid

Further Reading:

5. Failure

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." – The 2002 Coretta Scott-King edited book, “In My Own Words”

Failure and disappointment will occur in the workplace, but one must be resilient. There is an opportunity to learn from every failure.

Professional Plus tips for dealing with failure at work:

  • Accept responsibility

  • Don’t take it personally

  • Lean on your support network

  • Identify the opportunities for improvement

  • Don’t worry about others’ opinions

Further Reading:

6. Mentorship

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" – MLK’s 1957 speech in Montgomery, Alabama.

In the workplace, we must mentor others. Mentors can help their mentees with their professional development, and mentoring can also lead to personal fulfillment.

Professional Plus tips for good mentorship:

  • Build a genuine relationship

  • Share your journey

  • Be open and honest

  • Practice empathy

  • Offer constructive criticism

  • Share your network

Further Reading:

7. Teamwork

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” – MLK’s 1964 speech in St. Louis

Teamwork leads to better problem-solving and improved productivity. A lack of teamwork in the workplace can be detrimental to team performance.

Professional Plus for better teamwork in the workplace

  • Encourage frequent communication

  • Build trust among team members

  • Clarify team goals and purpose

  • Clearly define the roles of each team member

  • Recognize and reward team members

Further Reading:

8. Adapting to Change

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” – MLK’s 1956 “The Dead of Evil Upon the Seashore” sermon.

Change is essential as it leads to innovation and new opportunities. Although change is necessary, it doesn’t come without its difficulties. We have to be willing to adapt to change because change is inevitable.

Professional Plus tips for handling change:

For the leader……..

  • Be transparent

  • Listen

  • Involve team members in the change

  • Reward acceptance

For the employee……

  • Understand the purpose of the change

  • Remain positive

  • Don’t resist

  • Be flexible

  • Lose your ego

Further Reading:

9. Work Ethic

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” – Taken from attribution

Employers want workers with strong work ethics. Your work ethic relates to your performance and can lead to career progression. Skills are essential, but your work ethic is crucial to your success.

Professional Plus Tips for developing your work ethic

  • Set a standard for excellence and hold yourself accountable to meeting it

  • Identify coworkers with solid work ethics and measure yourself against their work ethic

  • Develop self-discipline

  • Practice punctuality

  • Practice time management

Further Reading:

10. Selflessness

"Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." – MLK’s “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon

Altruism in the workplace relates to the selfless concern for helping your colleagues. If you are altruistic at work, you are genuinely interested in the benefit and well-being of your coworkers. A workplace where team member helps each other leads to better collaboration, productivity, and morale.

Professional Plus tips for being more generous with your coworkers:

  • Give advice when appropriate

  • Offer your time and support

  • Be kind

  • Give praise and recognition

Further Reading:

11. Being Your Best

“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” – MLK’s 1967 speech at Glenville High School

You owe it to yourself and your team members to give maximum effort at work. Giving maximum effort in the workplace will lead to better performance and a more satisfying career.

Professional Plus tips for being your best at work:

  • Identify what motives you

  • Prioritize learning

  • Stay focused

  • Break big goals into small tasks

  • Limit multitasking

  • Practice self-care

Further Reading:

12. Getting Along

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” – MLK’s “Advice for Living” in 1958

You aren’t going to like every coworker, but it’s important to build working relationships with your fellow team members because it can make your work experience more enjoyable. Communication in the workplace can also lead to better collaboration and trust among team members.

Professional Plus tips for better communication at work:

  • Speak in person as opposed to via messaging apps

  • Watch your body language

  • Understand your team members

  • Ask questions

  • Constructive teambuilding exercises

  • Practice active listening

  • Learn to accept the personalities of your teammates

Further Reading:

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Cover Image Photo Attribution by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

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