5 Lessons Learned From Our Greatest Leaders

George J. Ziogas

On how to be a leader that truly leads

The only way to become a good leader is by doing. As you do, you’ll inevitably make mistakes, and in every mistake, there’s a lesson to be learned. You can also draw from the lessons that we’ve learned from the great leaders of our past. History is there to be learned from, so it makes perfect sense to look into the legacies of those we hold up as examples of excellent leadership. As you strive to become a better leader, you can reflect on the lessons learned from the leaders we revere.

1. The Past Is A Lesson

Just like you learn from your own past, so too can we learn from the world’s history. Historic leaders have been through epic trials and tribulations and these are often similar to those that we experience, perhaps on a grander scale. Either way, from this we can learn how best to succeed (or recover from failure). You can draw from your own mistakes, but learning lessons from those who have gone before us can help you avoid making certain mistakes.

2. Character Counts

It’s who you are when nobody is looking. What you do in front of others matters, too. Benjamin Franklin lived by thirteen critical virtues. We recognize Gandhi’s self-discipline and restraint, the honesty of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and the courage of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. All products of their character. Character counts, and it’s part of your reputation.

3. You Have To Take Risks

Be bold and in your courage, accept that you’ll experience failure. Sometimes, though, failure is crucial to success. Just look at Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, he ran for a seat in the Illinois Senate. He lost. Just two years later he was running (and winning) for the Presidency. It took years of determination and battles before George Washington was successful in his fight against the British. Nelson Mandela found himself sitting in a jail cell for 27 years. As hard a pill it can be to swallow, the odd failure is good for the soul, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, and offers you an opportunity to improve.

4. You’re Not A Victim

Whether your education was lacking, you were poor or you didn’t have the support you truly needed, you have the strength to rise above it. You can overcome just about anything to succeed. All it takes is grit, determination, passion, courage, and commitment. Albert Einstein couldn’t get into college. Benjamin Franklin’s formal education stopped at the age of 10. The very first business that Bill Gates started was a complete and utter failure. FDR, arguably one of the greatest US presidents, was paralyzed from the waist down and still won four presidential elections. He also found ways to walk and stand unaided. You are what you make of yourself.

5. Self-Discipline Is Key

Despite the fact that Abraham Lincoln had little formal education he was constantly reading in an attempt to expand his horizons. Benjamin Franklin used his thirteen virtues to improve his character. History is littered with great leaders who have amazing lessons to teach us. Part of becoming a great leader is continuously working on yourself, pursuing your passions, and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. No one can do that for you. You’re the only one who can motivate yourself to become the leader you want to be. If you want to be an inspiring leader who provokes action, then you have to first lead yourself.

Study history, take in the lessons of the past. Allow the mistakes of others to shine a light onto your path. You can sit through leadership seminars and buy self-help books, but you can also delve into the minds of history’s greatest leaders for lessons on how to be a leader that truly leads.

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