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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Leadership Lessons From Inspiring Leaders In History

10 Leadership Lessons From Inspiring Leaders In History
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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: Markus Spiske via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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