Dr. King's Advice to Future Leaders

Monday’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday provided an excellent opportunity to reflect on his legacy. In his lifetime, he accomplished something many of us aspire to do: He created and achieved a vision that impacted the global community.

What advice would Dr. King give to us as we prepare to be tomorrow’s leaders? I think that Dr. King would advise us to equip ourselves with both an analytical mind and a concern for others, as laid out in his “Tough Mind and Tender Heart” sermon. Does HBS help us develop these traits?

Dr. King preached that incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment characterize a “tough mind.” He also stated, “The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false…the tough minded individual is astute and discerning. He has strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose of commitment.” I believe the HBS experience prepares us well for this. Case analysis and managing the many demands on our time are good training for honing the “tough mind”. Is the same true for developing a “tender heart?”

Tenderheartedness describes our character. And I am not convinced that HBS or any other academic institution can truly shape character. Instead, I believe each individual develops his or her character. The outlook we choose to have on life and the daily choices we make reveal our inner make-up. Dr. King remarked of the person lacking character, “The hardhearted person gives dollars to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.” Compassion, empathy, and selflessness are all traits of the tenderhearted. These qualities cannot be taught. These qualities can be attained only after we have committed both our minds and hearts to them.
Only then will we be able to show our “tenderheartedness” through our daily thoughts, words and actions.

Dr.King would be proud of many of your accomplishments to date. HBS students have impacted their respective communities in good ways. Going forward, we must realize that upon leaving HBS we will be expected to have even larger impacts. Noting the opening quote, “Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education,” (Dr. King, 1947) we should strive to make the most of this educational experience. HBS will sharpen your “tough mind.” The choice for leaving here with a “tender heart” is ours. Let’s make the right decision.

Editor’s Note: The full text of the “Tough Mind and Tender Heart” sermon can be found in Strength To Love, By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reprinted from 1/28/03.