It has been said that there is no such thing as death if we make our mark on the world by teaching others. The lessons we impart upon the world may live eternally, long after our hearts stop beating. As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I reflect upon the lessons this black preacher from the South, whose heart ceased beating before my own was given life, has taught this white business woman from the East. These four virtues have helped me grow as a business leader, friend, mother, partner, and as a person.
Similarities to Overcome Differences: Martin Luther King Jr. preached often about how the greatest problems of the world were caused by the tendency of humans to focus on individual differences. This wisdom transcends everything in life and business. For example, in building a great business there will be times when you are at odds with someone. It is at crucial times like this when humans tend to approach disagreements by intensely focusing on how each side is so different in its beliefs, like you are a Republican and I am a Democrat and so we can never come to terms. However, at the core of every argument between two people, or even between two countries or two political parties, there is always something on which both sides agree. Sometimes it takes work to find where those commonalities exist, but finding them is usually the prerequisite to any type of resolution. For example, even though we have different political beliefs, we may both agree that our democracy makes for a better world. Peeling back the layers of our differences will expose a core of commonalities. From that core we can find an answer we may both live with. King would likely even take issue with the title of my article, "A Lesson in Greatness: From a Black Preacher in the South to a White Business Woman in the North," and would argue that it may be more appropriately labeled, "A Lesson in Greatness -- From one Human to Another." He'd be right of course.
There are No Bad People, Just Blind Ones: How do you find love in your heart for those that wish to oppress you? The sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., offer the answer. King believed that there are no bad people. Those that supported and instituted segregation were not bad people, they were blind ones. They knew not what they were doing. If you want to build a great life and a great business it is essential that you build a core belief that all people are good, even your enemies. Those that wish to oppress you or others are simply blind to the truth and it your job to politely, silently, work to open their eyes to the possibility that the foundation of their belief system is flawed. This leads to the next virtue imparted upon me by King.
Question the Foundation of Your Own Beliefs: Martin Luther King Jr. would not preach about the possibilities of your enemies being blind rather than bad without also cautioning you to also constantly question the foundation of your own belief system. The death of any business and any relationship begins when you hold firmly onto your righteousness. As a business leader, as a friend, and as a parent, it is important to always question why you believe in something. For example, in growing my real estate businesses over the past thirteen years, I have come to appreciate the fact that sometimes my competition is better than me at certain things. Rather than hold firm in my own righteous beliefs about how to do things, I tend now to step back and ask myself if perhaps my competition is better, smarter, and faster than me in some areas. By doing so, it allows me to question my beliefs about how to run business and offers me the opportunity to continually grow.
Dawn Will Come: In life there will always be tragedy and heartache. Martin Luther King Jr. would say that "For every midnight, there is a dawn." This powerful notion has offered me the power to just keep on going. As the recession detonated our economy and real estate market over the past seven years, there were many a day that I went to sleep at night saying, "Can I really do this again tomorrow?" As I slowly slid back and lost all things material I had accumulated in what seemed like a different life of prosperity, the only thing that continuously propelled me out of bed the next morning was hope. I never knew exactly what I was hoping for, but these humble words of Martin Luther King Jr., are as close as I have ever come to realizing what I was simply hoping for was dawn.