Quality eLine Newsletter
February 2004
Vol. 6, No. 2

Six Sigma and More: 
Martin Luther King, Jr. and his inspiration to leadership

by David R. Schwinn

As we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I find I cannot avoid trying to honor him in this column as a hero. What he had to say went far beyond the immediate issues of civil rights and freedom for all. Indeed, the remarkable qualities that he brought to those who listened represent a model for all those who would lead, in Six Sigma as well as in all areas of life.

Dr. King began his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963 in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial with hundreds of thousands of people of all colors looking on. He began by saying, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” He was of freedom.

He was of vision.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

As I watched him deliver these words once again, I was reminded of yet another quality of his that has profoundly affected me. It was the courage it took for him to pursue change nonviolently. His call for change was met by violence from many whites. Dr. King and those who shared his dream were attacked by police clubs, dogs, and water hoses. He and his associates were beaten, jailed, and even murdered. Many African-Americans called for retaliatory violence. Others just wanted to give it up. Dr. King would abide neither. The evening before he was murdered, Dr. King spoke at the Masonic Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. He spoke of the need to continue the journey nonviolently. He spoke of the danger of the journey. He spoke of the many threats he had received and the attempt on his life several years earlier. At 39 years of age, he concluded with,

"We've got some difficult days ahead. ...But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Freedom, vision, and courage: an elegant legacy and a model for us all to follow.

Freedom doesn't happen by itself. As a Six Sigma leader, please encourage those you work with to spread their wings. Too often, we feel as though we've been put in a box. There are some things we are supposed to do and others that we are not supposed to do. Those inappropriate things are not our job. Encourage folks to expand their job description. Do it yourself. Create some freedom and watch your Six Sigma effort blossom.

Create a shared vision of where you want to go. But don't make it too small. Recognize the brilliance of yourself and those around you.

And finally, have the courage to act on the vision you have shared. Our work takes much of our life. Make your work worthy of your life.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.   I’m at support@ pqsystems.com.


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