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10 Leadership Lessons From Inspiring Leaders In History

10 Leadership Lessons From Inspiring Leaders In History

Whether at home or at the workplace or in pursuit of our passion, we all want to become better leaders.

But what does it take to get there?

What allows great leaders to overcome hardship, build great teams and innovate radical solutions to challenging situations?

Often, the best lessons can be learned from history. All great leaders throughout history share common characteristics and attributes that not only made them unique, but also helped them lead great movements with innovative ideas.  These individuals were not born leaders; they developed leadership habits and followed the inspiring example of those that came before them.

We can develop and foster the habits of leadership within our own lives too. As aspiring leaders, it is critical that we take the time to reflect and assess our own perspective, capabilities and habits.

Here is a look at some of the greatest leaders of our time and some of the characteristics that make them great.

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1. Powerful Persistence – Abraham Lincoln

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

As the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln is most celebrated for his role in keeping the nation together during the Civil War and signing the Emancipation Proclamation, which helped to end slavery in the United States.  His leadership exemplified determination and is a reminder that great leaders must remain persistent, even when others do not believe in your vision as a leader.

2. Bold Courage – Sandra Day O’Connor

“In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.” ~ Sandra Day O’Connor

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman justice on the Supreme Court.  During her 24 years on the bench, O’Connor served as the swing vote on a number of important cases for controversial issues like abortion, affirmative action, election law, sexual harassment and the death penalty.  She serves as a powerful example for women in the legal profession and is a reminder that great leaders are not afraid to stand for justice, even when their peers do not agree with their beliefs.

3. Humble Sacrifice – Nelson Mandela

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was a visionary leader who believed that forgiveness was more important that revenge.  As the first South African president elected in fully democratic elections, he was his country move past an era of apartheid after serving almost 30 years in prison.  His commitment to justice and peace, even after being imprisoned for so many years, is a reminder that great leaders must often sacrifice their personal comfort to accomplish their goals.

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4. Creative Innovation – Eleanor Roosevelt

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

As the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt helped redefine the role of the First Lady.  Eleanor not only participated in radio broadcasts, she also authored a daily syndicated column, held press conferences to discuss women’s issues and was an active supporter of civil rights policies and New Deal social-welfare programs.  After President Roosevelt’s death, Eleanor continued her humanitarian efforts by helping to develop the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UNICEF.  Her ability to redefine expectations is a reminder that great leaders always look for opportunities to break the mold.

5. Brave Determination – Rosa Parks

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” ~ Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, an active member of the civil rights movement who marched on behalf of the Scottsboro boys and was a member of the NAACP, is best known for her act of refusal to give up her bus seat and comply with racists segregation policies in Montgomery, Alabama.  Her defiance helped to inspire the Montgomery bus boycott and propelled the civil rights movement.  Her willingness to stand her ground in the face of unfair laws is a reminder that great leaders do not allow their fear to overcome their purpose.

6. Valuable Networks – Oprah Winfrey

“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.”  ~ Oprah Winfrey

During a time when women were not readily embraced in the entertainment industry, Oprah Winfrey overcame humble beginnings to build an empire. Oprah Winfrey is best known for The Oprah Winfrey Show, which has won multiple Emmy Awards, is broadcast in 145 countries and has been called the most successful daytime TV program in history.  She has also received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her role as Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple and launched her own network – OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network – in January 2011.  Her influence on culture by celebrating the success of others is a reminder that great leaders surround themselves with individuals who embody their values and are also striving for success.

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7. Moving Beyond Comfort – Geoffrey Canada

“The tendency in lots of large organizations is to try and find a comfortable place where you think you can get measured rewards for measured work.” ~ Geoffrey Canada

A social activities and leader in the education sector, Geoffrey Canada has served as the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York and the Chairman of Children’s Defense Fund’s Board of Directors.  Canada has been committed to improving our education system for over 25 years.  His ability to challenge the outdated business model of public education and create new systems to reach urban students and their families is a reminder that great leaders challenge convention and push the boundaries of comfortable.

8. Leveraging Platforms – Bono

“Real leadership is when everyone else feels in charge.” ~ Bono

As the leader singer of the group U2, Bono leveraged his platform as a world renowned music entertainer to raise global awareness of critical issues like AIDS and poverty. He has persuaded global leaders to increase their support to the world’s poorest countries and enlisted the support of major corporations and brands through his ONE and (RED) campaigns. His ability to challenge the conventional expectations of music performers and entertainers and use his platform to address critical global issues is a reminder that great leaders leverage their platform to reach individuals outside of their normal circle and raise awareness of important issues.

9. Giving More, Taking Less – Angelina Jolie

“If I make a fool of myself, who cares? I’m not frightened by anyone’s perception of me.” ~ Angelina Jolie

Well known as an award winning actress in many popular movies, like Tomb Raider and Wanted and Salt, Angelina Jolie has distinguished herself by becoming a humanitarian and focusing much of her attention on how she can use her influence to give to others. She joined the UN’s refugee agency in 2001 as a goodwill ambassador and then as a special envoy, which has enabled her to take 50 field missions to countries like Iraq, Syria and Pakistan. She has used her global influence to bring attention to women rights issues in war-torn countries and other humanitarian challenges. Her ability to focus on how she can use her position of influence to give more to those in need is a reminder that great leaders give far more than they take.

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10. Believing in a Vision – Jeff Bezos

“A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last.” ~ Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, is well known for his visionary insight, turning an idea about e-commerce that many did not understand 20 years ago into the worlds No. 2 most admired company with a market value hovering around $175 billion. But his vision is truly defined by his goals of transforming the way people purchase products, not simply to be an online merchant of books. With innovations at Amazon like Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited, along with his personal projects like Blue Origin, a human spaceflight company, and his purchase of The Washington Post, Jeff Bezos is continuing to re-imagine the way business will impact the way people communicate. His ability to imagine a future that we have yet to see is a reminder that great leaders believe in bold visions of he future.

Building new habits is not always easy.

Nevertheless, it is important to constantly seek opportunities to grow and strengthen our skills.  As leaders, we must seek opportunities to build reinforcing habits that allow us to be more effective.

These leadership lessons are helpful reminders that can help us expand our influence, strengthen our organizations and advance our careers.

What new habit can you begin building today?

Featured photo credit: Flickr: Creative Commons via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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