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How to Learn Leadership Skills from Historical Leaders

Updated on March 8, 2013
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

There is a myth that rubbing the nose of Abraham Lincoln on this statue will bring good luck.
There is a myth that rubbing the nose of Abraham Lincoln on this statue will bring good luck. | Source

Today's leaders should learn from the genius of leaders from the past.

Inspiration is available to all from valuable sources all around us. The beauty that we experience every day in the wonders that make up our physical surroundings can touch the senses in a motivational way. A song or poem can transport the mind to a time past when we were young and in a different place. Even a smell or fragrance will touch us through a memory that suddenly reappears after being forgotten for a period of time. Words from a religious passage or a poem can motivate an inner strength that was lying dormant, just waiting to be awakened and put to good use that benefits others. One can be moved or inspired in a variety of ways that lead to a better sense of being and accomplishment.

Great leaders throughout history have moved and inspired people to great heights and achievements that have shaped entire generations. The successes and failures of historical leaders should be revered as learning examples for students of leadership who hope to advance their leadership abilities. There are many easily accessible ways to gain valuable insight to the genius that made them motivate and inspire those around them.

Abraham Lincoln faced many personal tragedies and challenges throughout his early years and into his presidency.  These events certainly help shaped the leader he became.
Abraham Lincoln faced many personal tragedies and challenges throughout his early years and into his presidency. These events certainly help shaped the leader he became. | Source

Common Leadership Qualities Are Timeless

Leadership qualities that are effective today are analyzed for their contribution to making leaders successful. Some common leadership qualities are:

  1. Vision
  2. Patience
  3. Passion
  4. Ambition
  5. Wisdom
  6. Empathy
  7. Integrity/character
  8. Assertiveness
  9. Courage
  10. Discernment
  11. Good communication skills

The list above can certainly be altered or expanded although, in its entirety, it covers many of the commonly accepted qualities that make a great leader. Some of the qualities have been present throughout history but may have been set lower on the priority list per the situation and time. However, great leaders will have many if not all of those qualities. In fact, history has proven that it takes most, if not all, to be successful.

Theodore Roosevelt was known for his charismatic personality and strong leadership style.
Theodore Roosevelt was known for his charismatic personality and strong leadership style. | Source

Become Familiar with Their Greatness

Historical figures have legacies that stand the test of time because their leadership inspired others who had the opportunity to work with them or be touched by their efforts. The mark of true genius often was discovered by those who doubted their abilities at first glance but grew to respect them due to their actions. Despite some challenges from their contemporaries, remarkable leaders are remembered throughout history for their abilities to lead others through whatever challenges faced them at the time.

Since legend and history have been handed down through the ages, there are many ways today to study and learn the mark of true leadership from those who have gone before us. Consider the following:

  • Biographies - Libraries, bookstores and online resources provide access to many books with stories of famous historical leaders who have inspired people to follow them on their journey or through whatever societal challenges faced them during their lives. For many of these notable historic leaders, there will be numerous versions of their lives with variation and some interpretation on the part of the author who must retell the story of their lives. A discerning eye can still get the message from reading different books of what it was that made these folks great leaders.
  • Famous Quotes - The Internet and various books over the years have collected famous quotes from well-known leaders during their times of struggles and great accomplishments. The words of wisdom spoken at these crucial times are often insightful tidbits that help explain the genius that has earned many historical leaders a positive reputation throughout history. Sometimes, reading a famous quote from a historical leader who has experienced great trials can inspire a leader today to tackle the challenges that they are facing. Again, understanding what they were thinking and saying will provide understanding of what made these historical figures great leaders.
  • Historic Places - Visiting a historic place can provide a valuable impression to the sense of sight and perhaps instill a feeling of understanding that can only be grasped through seeing a place first hand. Historical landmarks are places that should be witnessed and experienced as a learning exercise that tells a story about the people and events that affected the site. The mark of the historical leaders who frequented or visited these places is surely to be seen at these sites. Tour guides and brochures will provide valuable information to the visitor of the site.
  • Movies and Documentaries - Movies and documentaries can give a glimpse of the past through the use of actors, period costumes and designed sets. While movies are fictional, they still tell a story of a person, place and event in history that are significant enough to be retold through the creation of a movie for entertainment purposes. Documentaries are usually done after research and educational material have been created to retell some historically important situation.
  • Leadership Classes and Training - There are educational opportunities through classes and training which discuss leadership development, and how history has been influenced by historical figures.
  • Historical Events - Studying the historical events that shaped and molded the genius of historical leaders can provide for a perspective of what was happpening during and as a result of the historical figure's leadership. Focusing on a historic event can grant another important perspective on the leader.

Inspiration from historical leaders is easily obtained through a variety of sources as mentioned above. Technology provides many ways to learn about how historical leaders who have influenced others during their lifetime. Whether it was on a battlefield, through a social movement, or during a presidential term at a key moment in a country's history, leaders have made decisions that have shaped who we eventually became as a society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" speech

The Success of Today Can Be Achieved Through the Lessons of Yesterday

Leaders today have the luxury of knowing the successes and failures of those who have gone before them. By studying leadership qualities of those historical leaders who shaped the events of the world throughout history, leaders can study their achievements and learn how they were able to influence those who followed them. Some people are born leaders and seem to have the proper insight and motivational characteristic that are just very natural to them. Others, however, need to learn more about the qualities of leadership, and can, eventually, be just as successful in their leadership endeavors. All leaders, regardless of their strengths, can truly benefit from understanding the stories of historical leaders who faced many of the same challenges that exist today.

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