For the past 20 years I’ve often said that the best book on leadership I’ve ever read is The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was edited by Clayborne Carson.
It’s not really an autobiography. It’s a collection of speeches and writings by Martin Luther King, Jr. that essentially go from 1955 until the night before he was shot in 1968.
The reason why I consider it to be the greatest book on leadership that I’ve ever read is because it’s a pure example of how to influence the way other people think. King had no formal power or authority over other people. He was named the president of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) when it was formed in 1955 after Rosa Parks sparked the bus boycott, but that was not a big corporation or a government position. It was an organization that was formed to gain some momentum in what became known as the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King influenced people through delivering written speeches (including most of his sermons), through extemporaneous speeches (most of his I Have A Dream speech was different than his written text for that day), through letters (and his most famous letter was his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail), though actions (his active involvement in many marches and sit-ins), through strategy (he based his approach of Non-Violent Resistance off of what he learned from studying Mohandas Gandhi), and through examples of personal courage (he kept on going even after his home was bombed and he received multiple threats on his life).
He did not have a lot of money, authority, or big titles in a big corporation. He was not a political figure. He simply influenced people all day long toward thinking differently about race, race relations, and equal opportunity for everyone regardless of the color of their skin.
I read this powerful book in the spring of 1999, and it has stayed in my mind ever since.