No leader is born great or a hero. It comes from education, experience, and the lessons learned from others. Here are ten great leaders and the legendary lessons they have given us. Are you willing to receive and apply them?
Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his beliefs about freedom and equality. He eventually became the first black President of South Africa. He changed a nation and ended apartheid by his selfless but resolute leadership. He demonstrated reconciliation and forgiveness. Lesson 1 is to be clear on your values. Mandela reminds us,“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a statesman and hero in early Rome. He was highly regarded and an opponent of the ruling elite of his day. Following the condemnation of his son, he was forced to live simply on his small farm. When Rome was under attack by their enemies he was called on to be a dictator. After his victory he resigned his office and gave up absolute power all within two weeks. His virtuous deed and lack of personal glory is an example of outstanding leadership and service. He thought that any Roman should serve his country, not the other way around. Lesson 2 reminds us to lead with integrity.Cincinnatus did his duty and didn’t ask or take more.
Dr. Martin Luther King was an activist for civil and human rights. He captivated people’s attention with his powerful speaking. More importantly, King rallied them with his dream that all people were created equal. His speech, I Have a Dream, is one of the most eloquent of all-time. He also walked the talk, and received the Nobel peace prize for his efforts. Lesson 3: the greatest leaders have a vision or dream that inspires others to follow them. King said, “Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 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.”
George Washington was the first US President and one of the founding fathers. As commander of the continental army he led an ill-equipped and poorly trained force to victory against the British. He presided over the convention that drafted the US constitution. People admired his leadership skills as he set the course of the nation with strength and tenacity. He also served only two terms, which is the precedent for today. Lesson 4: a leader’s role is to serve.Washington stated, “Let your heart feel for the afflictions and distress of everyone, and let your hand give in proportion to your purse.”
Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle in his youth and is considered by many to be the greatest military leader ever, undefeated in battle. Historians say his real legacy is intermingling east and west cultures. He is known as ‘the man who conquered the world’. He unified Greece, and his empire stretched from Greece to Egypt to India. He relentlessly pursued his goal to achieve a kingdom from “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea.” Lesson 5 is that passion drives success. By the way, he did this in his 20’s and early 30’s, at times with reckless zeal.
Ashoka the Great ruled an empire in India that covered nearly the entire subcontinent. Early in his reign he was consider fierce and ruthless. After a massive war, he rejoiced with victory but was moved by the staggering amounts of death and destruction. He cried, “What have I done? If this is a victory, what’s a defeat, then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Is it gallantry or a rout…?” He transformed his ways and became a patron of Buddha. He led a peaceful life and did great acts of welfare and construction.Lesson 6 is that great leaders learn, grow and change.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the US, was self-educated and one who persevered in spite of many setbacks in business, life and politics. He was the right man at the right time as he led the US through a terrible civil war. He had a firm belief that the union must be preserved. He also had a conviction of equality, and his Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. He was also a man of great humility and oratory skills. These helped him gain respect even from his enemies.Lesson 7 is that to lead effectively you have to communicate, influence and persuade positively. Lincoln declared,“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
Mahatma Gandhi was the premier leader in India’s movement for independence. Trained as a lawyer, he learned nonviolent civil disobedience practicing law in South Africa. Returning to India he led campaigns to help the poor, expand women’s rights, and achieving self-rule (Swaraj). He was imprisoned for many years for his views but he didn’t quit. Through non-violent opposition and not firing a gun, he collaborated with multiple governmental levels and groups. Together they resisted the tyrannical British government. He is unofficially considered the “Father of the Nation” of India. Lesson 8 is that great leaders enable others to act by unifying them into cooperative and effective work groups or teams.
Mother Teresa was born in Albania and became a Roman Catholic nun. She served in Ireland and then moved to India. She became disturbed by the perpetual poverty. She tirelessly served the dying and poor by living among them and giving each one comfort. She founded the Missionaries of Charity. It eventually grew to 4500 sisters in 133 countries. Lesson 9 is lead by example. Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Julius Caesar, a Roman general and pro-consul, had few equals. He, too, was a superb strategist and general. His military victories extended Rome’s territory through Gaul, to the English Channel and to the Rhine. His legions were the best trained and disciplined and were unmatched in strength, regardless of the size of the opposing force. He applied the same focused approach to politics. An eventual civil war gave him unprecedented power and influence in Rome. He then centralized the government and initiated many social and governmental reforms that began the rise of the Roman Republic. Lesson 10 is that if you train your people the best, they will perform the best.
Whether you are a leader with or without a title, every one has greatness within. So the next step is up to you. Former US President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.”
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