LEADERSHIP / JUL. 31, 2014
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The Greatest Leaders and What They Have Taught Us

There are some people that you meet in your life that truly inspire you. There are others that you will never meet, yet they still impact your life. These people are generally natural born leaders.

A leader is someone that influences and motivates those around them; pushing them to achieve great things. A leader may be someone who led revolutions, while other leaders will simply motivate your career.

You may have various people that lead you within your career; a mentor, your partner, and anyone else that has supported you throughout your career. Although family, friends, and co-workers are great leaders, there are also great leaders that you can learn from whom you’ll never meet. John Lennon, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King are great examples, as they touched the lives of many.  

Interesting Study: The Leadership Gene

An individual being a ’born leader’ may not be fictional after all. Last year, a study was conducted at the University College London. DNA samples from 4,000 participants were analysed, identifying a specific genotype which has been named rs4950.

Of the 4,000 participants, those with this gene sequence were 25% more likely to be in a supervisor position within their career. Although this gene may play a role in our ability to lead, our experiences and environment are thought to play a much larger role.

Leadership is viewed as a skill that develops over time. However, genetics may also play a role in terms of who is more likely to take on a leadership role. With half of the population possessing this genotype, we could potentially achieve incredible things if we all pushed ourselves towards greatness.

Our Greatest Leaders and What They Have Taught Us

The following are the greatest leaders throughout time. You can apply their beliefs, visions, methods, ideals, and lessons into your personal career.

1. Mahatma Gandhi

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

Gandhi is a widely known and well-respected leader. He was the primary leader of India’s independence movement, influencing those around the world. He has provided the world and his followers with some great lessons.

Lesson One: Continuous learning and improvement

Gandhi had told his followers, if two of his sentences every contradicted themselves and they thought he was sane, ignore the first sentence. He said that his second sentence would reflect his learning and growing mindset.

It’s important to continuously learn and grow. If you are too rigid in your ideas, how can you develop your career effectively? Personal growth is vital in terms of your career. You also need to learn and adapt to a changing world. You are not the same person you were two years ago; you have been exposed to new ideas and information. It’s important to take that information and use it to grow not only in your career, but as a person.  

Lesson Two: Emphasize self-awareness and discipline

Self-discipline is one of the core principles in which Gandhi practiced. He believed that self-discipline of one’s body and mind allows you to achieve your goals. Gandhi’s core focus was controlling his appetite, celibacy, and maintaining a pure mind. Gandhi expressed, "a man is but the product of his thoughts- what he thinks, he becomes."

Although Gandhi did not focus on his ’career’ in terms of self-discipline, there is a lot that can be learnt from this principle. It’s important to be aware of yourself, while controlling your actions. 

As your self-awareness grows, you begin to better understand the way you feel and the way you behave. Self-discipline is all about training one’s mind to control harmful urges. Once you develop self-discipline, you can control more variables. 

When you achieve high levels of self-discipline, you’re able to stay focused on a set goal. Career paths are full of continuous goals and deadlines, which is why self-discipline is so crucial. It allows you to progress without distractions, focusing on time management skills. 

Lesson Three: Be more open-minded

Gandhi said, "be the change you wish to see in the world." When you change yourself, the reflection in the mirror has no choice but to change as well. If you are open-minded, you allow yourself to make necessary changes. 

Gandhi had a highly open-minded approach to religion, allowing himself to learn about the beliefs of others. He found value in this, rather than criticism. He appreciated the guidance of others, understanding that not everyone chooses the same path. 

When it comes to your career, you should always try to keep things in perspective. No matter how big or small, do not dismiss others without giving it a try. Be open-minded to those around you. You never know what may inspire the next big idea.  

When you are open-minded, you may be inspired by someone you’d least expect. If you are not fond of an idea, you may make it your own. You should never shut anything down without giving it a try. Many people have found their dream job when they least expect it. This is all about being open-minded to those people and situations around you.

2. Steve Jobs

“Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.”

Steve Jobs not only inspired people due to his perseverance in the business world, but his incredible outlook on life. He made a mark on this world that will live on forever. He was most certainly a natural born leader, touching those around him. Although a large majority of the population never met him, the lessons he taught us are something that will live on through the people he touched. He was a visionary, and he’ll always be remembered for the advances he brought to us.

Lesson One: You can’t do it all on your own

Steve taught us that if you want your business to succeed on a massive scale, you can’t do it on your own. You need the people around you. You need to give people opportunity, but also hold them accountable. Basically, you need to learn that being a great leader isn’t about having puppets that simply do what you say. Being an effective leader is crucial if you want great ideas to thrive and impact the world.

It’s important to seek out good mentors. Although Steve Jobs was a genius, he had many great men and women by his side. He was smart enough to be around people that he could learn from. He has taught us that no matter how smart, talented, or experienced you are, learn how to spot people around you. Listen to these people and learn from them.

Lesson Two: Pursue your passions, choosing your path wisely

Steve Jobs said that for the past 33 years, he has looked in the mirror and asked himself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” He explained that if the answer is repeatedly ’no,’ too many days in a row, you need to make a change.

Think about your career, are you happy? Does your career bring satisfaction and meaning to your life? If not, make changes. Follow your dreams, pursuing your passions. You are in control of your future and the career decisions you make. If you are not feeling fulfilled in the work you do, begin looking into further options. 

3. Nelson Mandela

“There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right away.”

Nelson Mandela is the former president of South Africa and a global activist and advocate for human rights. He was imprisoned for 27 years by the South African government for his efforts. He was an incredible leader, exuding dedication, perseverance, and inspiration.

Lesson One: Knowledge is power

Mandela stressed that education is the greatest tool and weapon that we have. If you want to change the world, you need to increase your knowledge. In terms of your career, how can you fight for something that you don’t understand?

Mandela sought out an education at the University College of Fort Hare, which was the only centre of higher learning for black residents in South Africa. During that time in Africa, Fort Hare could’ve been compared to Harvard or Oxford. When Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in 1963, he did not stop learning. During his time in prison, he earned a Bachelor of Law through a University of London correspondence program. 

When you provide yourself with a high level of education, you allow yourself to gain more opportunities within the career world. You need to push yourself, achieving all your goals. Mandela gained his degree while in prison, this is an incredible achievement. Seek out the education and/or training you need to reach your career goals.  

Whether you’re starting a business or you’re a bank manager, increasing your knowledge can change and improve your career. In turn, you can positively impact the lives of others. When you increase your knowledge, you allow yourself to fully understand concepts in your career, allowing you to effectively progress. 

Lesson Two: We do not all need to have the same opinion

You can respect people who have a different view than you. We’re all different and we’re entitled to our separate opinions. If you are more open to the opinions of others, you would be surprised at what you learn.

Nelson Mandela spent his life trying to make people understand unity and that the ultimate goal should be respecting one another. Mutual respect is so beneficial, especially in the career world. 

Different views and opinions allow you to see problems from all angles. When you see various angles, you may create a solution you would never have thought of before. Start listening to those around you, taking all opinions into account

4. Winston Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Churchill was the British Prime Minister within the Second World War. Not only was he an incredible leader but a poet, historian, artist, and writer.

Lesson One: Focus on what you’re doing at that moment in time

Churchill taught us to focus on one step at a time. He said, "it is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time." When you need to achieve something, focus on the steps you need to take.

Once you achieve the first step, your mental state will change. You begin to realise that your goal is attainable, you can do it. If you focus too much on the big picture, you can become overwhelmed and not reach your ultimate goal.

When you’re starting up a business for instance, it’s important to take each small step without jumping ahead of yourself. When you break a task down into smaller parts, it becomes much more achievable. Make a list and complete each step before moving onto the next. The same goes for multiple deadlines. Focus in on one single task at a time, that way you will not become overwhelmed. 

Lesson Two: Be persistent and learn from your experiences

Churchill said, "continuous effort- not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential." When you give up too soon, you will never achieve what you set out to do. Many successful careers take years to build, it’s all about being persistent in your goals. 

It’s important to never quit, so learn from your experiences. Keep learning with everything you go through, adjusting your approach. When you’re persistent, you build your inner strength and motivation. Once these elements are strengthened, you can achieve great things.

In order to develop your career, you need strong motivation. It drives you towards your goals, allowing you to reach bigger and better things. You will not always be successful in everything you do, but that’s okay. Use these mistakes and experiences to your advantage. Once you learn what does and doesn’t work, you can approach your career with a whole new level of confidence. 

Start focusing on great leaders from both the past and present. How have they viewed the world? What can you learn from them? There are so many beneficial lessons to be learnt. Not only can these lessons benefit your career, but your overall life. 

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