Not a single day goes without coming across some leadership expert with his definition of what great leaders are made of. And all these opinions are stuffed with keywords such as: Visionary, Empathetic, Confident, Creative, Inspiring, Decisive etc. I can go on, but you get the point. It’s boring. Here I am going to tell the stories of five great leaders from the past and their most important leadership trait. Irrespective of whether you are running a Startup, or a billion dollar business, you will learn from these stories.
1. They Hire people more qualified than they are: Abraham Lincoln, after getting elected president of the US, nominated those four people to his cabinet who were his strongest rivals during the election, all of them more qualified than him. William Seward and Salmon Chase had served as US Senator and Governor. Edward Bates and Edwin Stanton were high profile lawyers who had served as Attorney Generals. Who was Abraham Lincoln? A self educated lawyer whose best political achievement was being a Congressman. But instead of being worried that his cabinet members would outshine him, he hired the best people for the job. Rest as you know, Lincoln’s presidency turned out to be the greatest in the history of the United States.
2. They Expose themselves to their followers: Alexander the Great is considered the greatest general of all time. What was his secret of winning every single battle? In the battlefield he would stay in a similar camp as made for other soldiers and would eat the same food. In battles he led from the front where everyone could see him. Alexander's soldiers felt that they were fighting for someone who belonged to them. Compare this to Darius the great, the king of Persia. Darius had his royal tent filled with all the comforts, and he never mixed with the foot soldiers. As a result his soldiers suffered from low morale. At the battle of Issus, when Alexander chased Darius away from the battlefield, his soldiers gave up, and fled in full rout.
3. They Mentor change agents: Jesus Christ was fully aware of the danger that his gospels of enlightenment ran counter to the to Roman authority and the temple priests ruling Jerusalem at that time. He selected 12 men from his followers as his disciples who were to advance his gospels throughout the world, after him. These 12 men didn’t have any extraordinary qualities when they chose him as their leader, but Jesus mentored them to spread his vision. Rest is history. Christianity is is the largest religion in the world with approximately 2.2 billion adherents. [Read Also: 5 Brilliant Ways Smart Leaders Motivate]
4. They Build strategic alliances: Hannibal was considered to be Rome’s greatest enemy. He was the leader of Carthage military that fought against Rome in the Second Punic war. Before losing the war Hannibal defeated the Roman armies in many battles in Italy, Gaul (modern day Germany), and Spain. Hannibal was facing massive Roman army and could not have won on his own. So he built up alliances with other kingdoms (most notably the Gauls) and tribes that feared the ever-increasing power of the Roman Empire, and led that army to many victories against the mighty Romans.
5. They Embrace conflict and channel it: Steve Jobs embraced conflict at Apple and channelled it to create the best consumer devices. In 2005 while planning for iPhone Jobs faced the option of either shrinking the mac or enlarging the iPod. He pitched the two teams: Mac led by Scott Forstall and iPod led by Tony Fadell against each other in an internal competition. Forstall won the competition and ended up creating iOS (source: Scott Forstall Wikipedia page). Also the rivalry between Scott Forstall and Jony Ive is well known. Times magazine wrote that they would not even sit in the same meeting room together. Steve Jobs had the ability to manage these big egos and channel their rivalries to serve the ultimate goal of the company i.e. creating breakthrough products. What happened when Jobs was gone? Tim Cook fired Scott Forstall over the map fiasco, and Apple lost one of its leaders who actually understood Job’s leadership style that had brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy.
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