What Can You Learn from History's Greatest Leaders?


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

History has had a lot of great leaders and some of their traits can serve as inspiration for managers trying to lead their teams.

Article 4 Minutes
What Can You Learn from History's Greatest Leaders

Throughout history there have been some standout leaders, as well as plenty of awful ones. From battling through adversity to motivating the masses in times of difficulty, there are things that you can learn from history's greatest leaders that can help you in your own role.

Judge people by their talents

Leaders throughout time have been strong because they are able to play up the strengths of the people they work closely with. US President George Washington was renowned for his strategic planning, which often involved relying on advisors around him to guide his decisions that ended up laying the foundations for the free world.

It can be easy to want to highlight the areas where people could improve, but it's also a really good way of completely demotivating them. Instead, look at where they are talented and help them focus and develop their skills. This will help build their confidence, productivity and work satisfaction.

In an ideal environment, focusing on the strengths of each person in your team would allow you to develop experts in different fields. In reality, it may mean that you have people whose skills overlap, but this doesn't have to be a problem. Having more than one person with particular expertise can help people on the team further develop, while also promoting collaboration.

Have faith in yourself

Whether you're a small startup, or a well-established company, there are going to times when others doubt your ability to succeed. As much as it’s important to take on board criticism and use it to improve your strategy or business model, there often comes a point where it’s more damaging than constructive.

Queen Elizabeth I is one of many females in history who faced adversity in terms of the quality of her leadership skills. Rather than be beaten by the negativity, she embraced it in one of the most iconic speeches in history;

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

Not only did she stand up for herself in the face of an overwhelming lack of faith, but she even managed to prove them wrong and show what it takes to be a truly great leader. Learning from Queen Elizabeth, modern business leaders should embrace the criticism but still stand their ground when it comes to having faith in what you do and drive the business forward to better times.

Reflect their importance

The greatest leaders of history understand that they are only allowed to be in their position because of a strong team around them and it's important that everyone feels valued. Each member of your team is (or should be) an asset and it's essential that you reflect this in how you treat them, as well as how you talk to and support them.

Steve Jobs, who has been hailed as an innovator, also helped build a company that respected its employees. Understanding the value of those you work with is a key part of being a successful leader.

This not only helps to keep their motivation and productivity high, but it also makes sure people understand where they are most needed in the company. Once your team know their role, they will be more confident in offering their own support, encouraging autonomy.

Be strong in times of crisis

It's unlikely that you will have to support your team through an outbreak of war or a financial crash, although it is possible, but being a strong leader in times of crisis is crucial. Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr had to motivate people in a very difficult time in the US. Having the ability to empower crowds that could have easily been disheartened was one of Dr King's traits, and has led to him being an icon for many.

Even though you are more likely to have much smaller issues at work, they can seem devastating to employees. It might be that redundancies are being made or profits are falling, but business problems can be difficult for employees to handle. As a leader, you need to understand what their concerns are and support them through it.

There may be very little you can do to control the outcomes of these events, but being honest and straightforward with your team will help them weather the storm.

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