When people think of Martin Luther King Jr., ‘community manager’ is not what typically comes to mind and yet he is one of the best examples of what a community manager can be. Inspirational, a magnet for a cause, and the center of a highly inter-networked movement with many leaders. He lived in a different time – one in which communities and movements took even longer to gestate and grow – but he used similar techniques to build his community that the best online community managers use today. Here are some of the best community management lessons he taught us:
- Empathy: Dr. King understood his audience (both his fellow black Americans and the white Americans he was trying to change) and when he pushed and challenged them, he did so in a way that inspired them to be the best of who they were rather than being confrontational and making them defensive or dismissive.
- Communication Skills: Dr. King knew his optimal communications medium. He was, first and foremost, a public speaker. His training as a Baptist minister paid off and he spoke tirelessly at every gathering he could.
- Modesty: While Dr. King often had the spotlight because he was the best spokespeople for the movement, he encouraged and supported emergent leadership. Because he did not need to be involved in everything or control how things happened, he extended his impact while alive and enabled his impact to continue once he was gone. While his death was a blow, it did not cause the movement to crumble because millions felt ownership over the success of civil rights, leadership was decentralized, and it was never about the success of Martin Luther King Jr. as a individual.
- Neutralization: No one will argue that Dr. King lacked passion or persistence. However, he was not angry and he was a master at deflecting and neutralizing anger. He did not respond to lynchings with killing, instead he inspired people to non-violent protest. While his foes torched churches, aimed dogs & fire hoses at protesters, and imprisoned him, he responded persistently with empathy, strength, and determination but never violent anger. Over time, this calm persistence created great influence and respect which dramatically furthered the cause of civil rights.
Last week I heard this quote of his “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” It is a great reminder to those of us who manage communities. Our success is the success of our community members and our organizations. We only ‘win’ when others win. Dr. King understood that and I only scratched the surface of what he has to teach us so if you have some time today, it is worth taking a few moments to watch some of Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches.