Legendary Lessons from Ten Great Leaders

 In Leadership, Leadership Development

What legendary leadership lessons can be learned from the past? No leader is born great or a hero. Research shows that greatest comes from education, experience, and the lessons learned from others. Here are ten great leaders and the legendary leadership lessons they have given us. Are you willing to receive and apply them?

Foundational Values: Legendary Leadership Lessons 1-3

Nelson Mandela

For 27 years opponents jailed Mr. Mandela for his beliefs about freedom and equality.  He eventually became the first black President of South Africa. Mandela changed a nation and ended apartheid by his selfless but resolute leadership. His example demonstrated reconciliation and forgiveness. Legendary Leadership 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 

As a statesman and hero in early Rome, all highly regarded him. In addition, he confronted the ruling elite of his day. As a result, opponents condemned his son. So, through force he simply lived on his small farm. When Rome was under attack by their enemies the government called on him (because of his military background) 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 sets 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 did not ask or take more.

Dr. Martin Luther King

Dr. King led non-violent protests as 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. Today the dream speech is 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.”

 Leading with Action: Legendary Leadership Lessons 4-7

George Washington 

The first US President and one of the founding fathers, Washington set an early collaborative tone for US Presidents. 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. Legendary Leadership 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

He learned from Aristotle in his youth. Many consider him to be the greatest military leader ever, undefeated in battle. Interestingly, 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. Furthermore, 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 

This leader 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. However, the staggering amounts of death and destruction moved him. He cried, “What have I done? If this is a victory, what is a defeat, then? Is this a victory or a defeat? Is this justice or injustice? Or gallantry or a rout…?”  Consequently, 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 shows that great leaders learn, grow and change.

Abraham Lincoln

Abe Lincoln educated himself and persevered in spite of many setbacks in business, life, and politics. As the 16th US President, he became the right man at the right time as he led the US through a terrible civil war. He steadfastly believed that the union must be preserved. Also, he had a conviction of equality, and his Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves. He was a man of great humility and oratory skills. Therefore, these traits helped him gain respect even from his enemies. Legendary Leadership Lesson 7 requires that to lead effectively you must 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.”

Helping Others Succeed: Legendary Leadership Lessons 8-10

Mahatma Gandhi 

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). Many times, the British government imprisoned him, but he did not quit. Through non-violent opposition and not firing a gun. For example, he collaborated tirelessly with multiple governmental levels and groups to protest oppression. Together they resisted the tyrannical British government. Certainly, history unofficially considers him the “Father of the Nation” of India. Lesson 8 emphasizes that great leaders enable others to act by unifying them with a vision. Furthermore, they organize them into productive but cooperative groups (teams).

Mother Teresa

Born in Albania, Mother Teresa became a Roman Catholic nun. She served in Ireland and then moved to India. She became disturbed by the perpetual poverty. In addition, she relentlessly 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 demonstrates that great leaders 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

As a Roman general and pro-consul, Caesar knew few equals in his day. 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. He relentlessly trained and disciplined his legions. Their ferocity became unmatched in strength, regardless of the size of the opposing force. Unfortunately, back in Rome he brutally took out his opposition because he applied the same focused military 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. Legendary Leadership Lesson 10 is that if you train your people the best, they will perform the best.

In Summary

Whether you are a leader with or without a title, everyone has greatness within. Therefore, the next step is up to you. As former US President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another.”

Legendary Lessons from Ten Great LeadersAlso, are you committed to your team’s success by applying these legendary leadership lessons? If so, see this complimentary Coaching for Results eBook.

In addition, go here for our RealTime Learning & Training leadership and personal development website. Micro-learning and career advancement at your fingertips!

Finally, do you want to accelerate your leadership success? Go here for Rick’s Superstar Leadership eBook.

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Showing 2 comments
  • sam smith

    I have been following the career of Mark Hurd for the last few years now, since he has taken over at Oracle. I have also been impressed with this leadership and ability to turn a company around. Here is his executive biography from Oracle for those of you wishing to learn about how to be successful in business: https://www.oracle.com/corporate/executives/hurd/index.html

    • Rick Conlow

      Hi Blake:
      Thanks for the example. There are many other excellent leaders we can learn from. That’s the key isn’t it, that we keep learning.
      Best wishes,

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