For some people, being a leader comes naturally. For others, it’s a skill learnt over time and through experience. Perhaps the best lessons in leadership are not the ones we learn from books, but rather the ones that we can learn from some of the most successful leaders the world has seen to date.
Lesson 1: Lead with emotional intelligence
Perhaps one of the greatest leaders this world has ever seen is the United States’ 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. He kept the nation together during the Civil War and helped to end slavery. Other than remaining persistent and determined no matter the challenge, one of the lessons in leadership we can glean from Lincoln was his emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence is about recognising your own errors and learning from your mistakes.
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have,” he famously said. Leading with emotional intelligence is no easy feat, but it’s one you should master to be an effective leader.
Lesson 2: Consider every angle
The best leaders are those who look at and analyse all the possible angles before approaching a situation. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was the exemplification of a leader who took every risk into consideration before going into battle. By thinking ahead, Napoleon pondered all the possible outcomes of his actions before engaging in battles.
Part of being a successful, tactical leader is being able to pre-empt, to some extent, what the possible outcomes will be before making a decision. If you know what could go wrong and have solutions for these areas before you act, you are well on your way to becoming a great leader.
Lesson 3: Be fearless and stand up for what is right
Nelson Mandela taught us a lot of things, but perhaps one of the biggest lessons in leadership we can learn from South Africa’s former president is to be fearless and have the courage to stand up for what is right.
“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,” Mandela said.
It takes courage to be a leader. You may feel afraid to stand up to a client when you feel they are wrong and to manage their expectations accordingly. Having the courage to stand up for what you believe is right in these types of situations is what makes a true leader and garners the respect of your team.
Lesson 4: Realise it’s okay to not be perfect
“Seek to be whole, not perfect,” are famous words spoken by Oprah Winfrey.
Much like leading with a degree of emotional intelligence is important, it is also vital that, as a leader, you realise that you’re not perfect, and there are very few situations where you ever will be. You may have started an excellent business, but your mistakes are a priceless learning experience and not shying away from them demonstrates humility and humanity.
Lesson 5: How you treat others is important
The biggest leadership lesson we can learn from British statesmen Winston Churchill is empathy. How you treat others and having empathy for them, and their circumstances is an integral part of being a leader. When commanding in the trenches of the Great War, Churchill always ensured the men he oversaw had their creature comforts such as fresh bread and beer and good postal service to connect with their families.
Lesson 6: Dream big
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” is excellent advice for leaders from none other than Elanor Roosevelt.
Part of being a leader is in helping others to realise and achieve their own dreams. It is also about leading your team towards a larger goal that everyone works collectively to achieve. The biggest lesson in leadership we can learn from Roosevelt is to be vision-orientated and to encourage those that you lead to share their vision too.
Lesson 7: Have (and be) a mentor
There is true value in being a mentor to others. Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors in history, was known for being efficient and innovative. But perhaps his biggest strength was knowing the importance of having a mentor.
Being a good leader means spending time on your own training and development. Identify someone in your network who is a good leader and learn from them. Being a good leader also means taking others under your wing and upskilling them to be the leaders they were born to be.
Lesson 8: Set boundaries and stick to them
As a leader, it is often easier to people please than to say no. However, setting boundaries and sticking to them is not only healthy, but it also puts you in good stead to be an effective leader. If you create and stick to boundaries, you won’t be making everyone happy, but you will gain respect from those around you
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A ‘no’ uttered from the most profound conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” It takes true discipline to say ‘no’ and not put others’ priorities ahead of your own.
Probably the biggest lesson in leadership we can learn from history’s most inspiring people is that being a leader is hard work. You can’t please everyone, nor will everyone like you. What is important is that you lead effectively by considering every outcome, chasing your dreams, and seeing the bigger picture even when others can’t.