Understanding the Charisma of Martin Luther King


A few weeks back we began exploring and analysing the communicative power of the twentieth century’s most charismatic individual, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK). You can scroll down to find the first article published September 3rd 2013, or simply click on this link.

King’s “I have a dream” speech delivered in August 1963 changed political and social reality for all time, and this four-word quote is probably the most cited of any in the English language. Everyone who communicates has something to learn from this man’s enduring legacy.

Bar MLK

So we decided to put Communicate Charisma at the service of users to the test, by asking readers to use the survey  methodology to tell us what they think about Martin Luther King — and then to analyse the results. It was a natural step: everyone  who logs on to the site  (www.communicatecharisma.com) is already asked, by way of a warm-up, to complete their own quick assessment of any charismatic individual.

We simply channeled folk toward  choosing Martin Luther King as their “Famous Communicator.” And the first results are in  from this mini “Wisdom of Crowds” experiment to discover how people experience Dr King today, on the 50th anniversary of his speech to 250,000 people in Washington’s National Mall in August 1963. The anniversary, of course, was topped off by US President Barack Obama’s commemorative speech from the self-same place August 27th 2013.

Martin_Luther_King_Speech

As those who’ve completed it for themselves will know, the Communicate Charisma profile of MLK (and everyone else) comes in two parts. We call these the Two Dimension profile, and the Seven Dimension profile.

First is a two-dimensional grid that shows how individuals project their persona onto situations. The 2D Charisma Projection Profile, predictably, has twin axes.

2D MLK JPEG

The vertical axis (Large-Small) shows whether individuals are perceived as having greater effectiveness when communicating publicly with large groups, or using a more intimate style with smaller groups. The horizontal axis (Empathy – Persuasion) shows whether individuals are seen as having greater effectiveness when using emotional intelligence to engage, or when using the typically persuasive skills of argument and logic.

In MLK’s case, predictably enough, the overall personality type as defined by Communicate Charisma is that of “Evangelist.”  People of this type are adept at galvanizing large groups through formal, high-energy opportunities.

On the vertical axis, there is strong bias toward large groups. This places MLK as a “Performer”, suggesting he was comfortable and articulate with large groups.

It’s worth noting some bias here. Our experience of MLK is, inevitably,  via the media and as a man associated with crowds. Like many public  figures, it’s harder  for us to conceive of MLK as a private man or one who worked with small groups as effectively as large masses.

On the horizontal axis, MLK’s profile shows a very slight bias for persuasion over empathy. Communicate Charisma defines the “Polymath” personality type as holding a natural balance between empathy-based and persuasive communication styles.

The circular graphic or Seven Dimension (7D) Charisma  Profile shows the essence of every communicator.  It uncovers the full spectrum of personal strengths MLK is considered by our sample of respondents, to have possessed.

7D MLK JPEG

From the accompanying table you can see the perceived energy level and range from each of these Seven Dimensions. You can also see the personality type description that Communicate Charisma has defined for the assessment results in each Dimension.

Table MLK JPEG

In MLK’s case, predictably, the two Dimensions with the highest energy levels are Vision (V2) and Drive (D). As the architect of a clear vision of the future, MLK scores 7.1 in the V2 segment of the circular plot (one of the highest possible scores).  As a man who galvanized the March on Washington and whose moral indignation urged African-American population forwards, MLK was a man of huge Drive. Unsurprisingly, his D score is 7 (one of the highest possible scores).

The “Wisdom of Crowds” Charisma Profile of MLK also shows he scores strongly on Beliefs (6.9), Ambition (6.9), Values (6.7). The “word cloud” shows the most-selected terms chosen to describe MLK in the assessments.

Cloud MLK JPEG

Obviously those completing the survey never knew MLK personally – but the result provides a fascinating  — and we believe highly reliable — snapshot of popular perceptions of this great and charismatic communicator. What is clear is that the shared vision we have of MLK translates compellingly through the mapping and measuring process of Communicate Charisma.

If the portrait you find in these graphics corresponds with the image you already hold in your mind of MLK, then that’s a piece of evidence  regarding the  reliability and validity of the Communicate Charisma model. And of course, as the number of people who  complete the survey on MLK grows over time, so the portrait becomes more accurate, more nuanced — and even more valid.

As a first foray into the world of charisma, this exercise shows how  in practical  terms we can map, measure and analyse our shared perceptions of other people. The next step, of course, is to analyse ourselves in order to create a reliable snapshot of our own Charisma. Once we know more about the effect we have on others and have a scientific framework on which to base our behaviour, then we can  begin to work on our own profiles in order to exercise leadership influence while retaining our authenticity. That is the goal of charismatic leaders.

The next goal is to learn how we ourselves can  nurture and develop some of the those same skills used by Great Communicators  – albeit in far more modest measure.

MLK time jpeg

Richard House

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