The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time

 In Inspirational, Leadership, Leadership Development, management, Rick Conlow

Famed management theorist Peter Drucker wrote over twenty years ago, “We have a dearth of leadership.” This is even more true today but not for the greatest leaders of all-time.

Recently, in Davos, Switzerland the global business and political elite gathered for the World Economic Forum. While these leaders reveled in the perceived better economic news, some concerns were aired about income inequalities and leadership distrust. Ironically, an Oxfam study reported that 82% of wealth generated in the last year went to the top 1% of our population. In addition, the 2018 Edelman’s Trust Barometer was released and showed continued large-scale distrust in business and government around the globe. Trust in US institutions declined 37% across the board. In China, the trust level is perceived high. Yet it’s a government-directed response, as China moves to rate the trustworthiness of each of its citizens.

Do you see the problem here?

Misconceptions about “Real” Leadership

The job or position title doesn’t make you a leader. Few managers or politicians understand that. They may have the power but they don’t have the respect. Most leadership gurus define leadership as ‘influence’. I don’t agree. I believe leadership has to be a positive influence. The leader title has to be earned. The likes of Kim Jong-un, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Andrew Jackson, and Mao Zedong are not leaders. They are mass murderers or tyrants. This non-leadership also applies to the business people who either rule their companies or teams like dictators or use the company as a playground for their ego or for personal profit. Some that come to mind are Lampert of Sears, Raines at Gamestop, Jeffries formerly of Abercombie and Fitch, and Menard of Menards. For these people, there is a night and day comparison to the greatest leaders of all-time.

The 5 Greatest Leaders

In a survey of historical leadership, five people come to mind that leave a legacy we can all learn from. Their leadership approaches are in stark contrast to most in power today. They each have similarly admirable traits but also highlight a distinguishable characteristic that sets them apart. Each focused on giving not taking. They are the greatest leaders because separates them at a quantum level above nearly all other so called leaders.

Abraham Lincoln

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

Lincoln grew up poor in the western frontier and was mostly self-educated. Lincoln gained the title of “honest Abe” as a store clerk. When he learned he had shortchanged a customer a few pennies, he walked miles to correct the situation. This happened a number of times and people grew to appreciate his integrity. Because of this, he would often be asked to judge disputes, which led him to practice law.

Yet, his most enduring quality was his perseverance through difficulties that prepared him for his future role. At one time he said, “You cannot fail unless you quit.” He lost eight political elections, failed in two businesses and suffered a personal nervous breakdown, becoming bedridden for six months. This led him to say, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” 

As the 16th US President, he served his nation in some of its darkest hours during the Civil War. He helped preserve the nation, abolish slavery, and strengthen the United States for a significant world impact in the years beyond.

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

Mahatma Gandhi

Mr. Gandhi was born and raised in the Hindu merchant caste system. He was an ordinary boy but one with determination to do well. He was trained in law in London and experienced racism in South Africa as he began to practice civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer. Returning to India he became an activist, organizing peasants, farmers and laborers to gain social justice. He gained leadership of the Indian National Congress which led to nationwide campaigns for self-rule. Thirteen different times he was arrested and put in jail. Gandhi said this about his struggles, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

He appealed for non-cooperation through his book, Hind Swaraij. Gandhi’s non-violent approach confounded British rule. He said,“ In a gentle way you can shake the world.”His approaches captured the attention globally, and rallied civil rights and freedom movements. It all eventually led to India’s independence. His humility is highlighted by his quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” It was never about him but rather about the Indian people and justice.

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

Mother Teresa

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 that she saw every day. She tirelessly served the dying and poor by living among them and giving each person comfort. Her relentless compassion touched the hearts of people worldwide. She founded the Missionaries of Charity. It eventually grew to 4500 sisters in 133 countries. Few people have been respected or admired like her, for her devotion to those others often forgotten about or shunned. Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox–that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his activism and beliefs about freedom and equality. After first being abused and tortured, he suffered there through inhumane treatment and illnesses. He also earned his Bachelor’s Degree and smuggled out a draft of his book, Long Walk to Freedom. Upon his release from prison, in the midst of racial tension and political instability, he negotiated with F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid. They realized the Nobel Peace prize for their efforts. He eventually became the first black President of South Africa. He changed a nation by his selfless but resolute leadership. He demonstrated reconciliation and forgiveness for a “rainbow nation.” He created a multi-racial government. His devotion to peace and unity gave him a global stage and audience. Mandela reminds us, “Forgiveness starts here. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

Jesus of Nazareth

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

Jesus had no formal degree or credentials and didn’t lead a multi-national company. His ministry lasted only 3 ½ years. In that time he helped the poor, sick and ordinary people all the time by healing and with miracles that no one could explain. With authenticity, he declared, ” As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” He spoke of God’s mercy and forgiveness. This all stunned and challenged the status quo of the religious and political leaders of his day. He called them hypocrites. This also scared them, and eventually he was wrongly put to death on a cross for being a heretic, which he himself predicted would happen.

He organized a core group of twelve mostly uneducated disciples. After his death, his disciples shared that he rose from the dead, and they began the Christian faith. Although people that believed him were persecuted for centuries; he now has 2 ½ billion followers which form the largest religion in the world. He is admired as a holy man or prophet by many who know about him. His book, The Bible, is an all-time best selling book ever.

The Success Secret of the Greatest Leaders

The five greatest leaders, it was seldom or never about personal gain, power, pride or their pocketbook. Their “success secret” is they took the path of servant leadership. Their cause mattered more than their own lives. If we could only startle the leaders of our day to emulate their life’s examples! They would realize that leadership greatness is not about gaining–it’s about giving. What a difference it would make!

The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

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The Success Secret of the 5 Greatest Leaders of All-Time by Rick Conlow

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Rick Conlow
Rick Conlow is the CEO & Founder of Rick Conlow International, a consulting, training and coaching firm. He has helped over 200 companies such as Target, Costco, Andersen Windows, Spectrum, Northern Power, Meijer, Carpet King, International Truck, John Deere, Lowes Financial, and Canadian Linen improve customer loyalty, increase sales and add profits. Rick has been a general manager, vice president, training director, program director, and national sales trainer. He has authored 22 books, and regularly speaks at conferences and to audiences of all sizes.
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