What makes a good leader? Some people believe that leaders are born, while others believe that they are forged over time. Whatever you believe, there are certain skills and attributes that mark out individuals as great leaders, whether you are writing a book, starting a business, trying to do better in your job or set an example to your children. Here we will look at some of the greatest leaders, strategists and thinkers in history and consider what lessons can be learned from them.
1 – Composure (Ernest Shackleton)
Staying as solid as a rock when things get turbulent is a sure sign of a great leader. As Napoleon once said: “The first qualification of a general is a cool head”. What this means is it is essential that you are robust enough to be able to keep control and avoid losing your cool in tough situations. Think Shackleton, who whilst stranded in the Antarctic on the verge of starvation, somehow managed to keep his men’s spirits up, saving them all from disaster after his ship was crushed by ice.
2 – Determination (Rosa Parks)
Rosa Parks is remembered as one of the great civil rights activists of our time. Refusing to give up her bus seat and comply with a racist segregation policy in 1955, she helped inspire a bus boycott and in turn advanced the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks was self-determined, full of purpose and through her actions helped inspire others around her to take action against injustice.
3- Selflessness (General George Marshall)
A great virtue of leaders that is often overlooked is the willingness to be selfless. A great example of this is the American military hero, General George Marshall. Winner of a Nobel Prize, Marshall was invited to offer himself up to lead the D-Day invasion. Marshall was by far the most popular candidate and had been closely involved with the development of the plans. Conventions meant that the job should rightly fall to him, as well as the potential glory and historical legacy that would come with it. However, when approached by President Roosevelt to be offered the job, Marshall asked that the president use his best judgement and make the most beneficial decision for the country. Because of this, Roosevelt passed the job on to General Eisenhower, a bright young talent at the time. As for Marshall, he kept him close and was quoted as saying “I feel I could not sleep at night with you out of the country”.
4 – Humility (Ty Warner)
When things are going well, it’s easy for even the humblest of people to become deluded and boastful. However, if you want to inspire those around you then you need to keep those tendencies in check. Leaders who practice humility are more likely to empower those around them and help develop a team spirit. An example of a failure to do this comes from Ty Warner, the inventor of Beanie Babies. Beanie Babies were a cult-classic of the 90s and one of the best-selling toys of that decade. At one point during their success, Warner is said to have remarked to employees that “they could put their logo on manure and people would still buy it”. Not long after making this boastful claim, the company imploded, and Warner was soon facing millions in civil penalties for tax evasion as well as possible prison time.
5 – Vision (Richard Branson)
Richard Branson, the British billionaire, has amassed a sprawling empire of enterprises from trains and planes to credit cards, wines, radio and cosmetics. However, the iconic entrepreneur came from humble beginnings. His first venture came with a student magazine started at just 15 years old. Branson wrote down the names of 250 members of parliament he would like to interview in the magazine, he then found advertisers by looking through the phone book and lastly contacted retailers to see if anyone would be interested in selling it. Through savvy business deals and a willingness to think big, he is now head of a business empire worth over £5billion, making him one of the richest people in the UK.
6 – Will (Nelson Mandela)
Nelson Mandela was the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully democratic contest. As an integral part of the rally against the unjust arpartheid system Mandela served a lengthy prison sentence from 1962 to 1990. However, rather than being deterred from further action, Mandela went on to devote his entire life to the unity of his country, becoming president in 1994 and creating a better future for all in South Africa.
What skills do you think are important in leaders? Let us know by connecting with us on Twitter @TimeForYouGroup.