While researching for leadership qualities, I came across a countless run of the mill blogs that listed out 10 or 13 leadership qualities that every leader should possess.
But let’s be honest! Even if you have this list as a poster sticking to the wall of your bedroom, your office, and even your bathroom, what are the chances of you being able to induce these qualities into your personality without any context?
I’ll put my money on negligible to none!
You cannot become a leader overnight or by reading a list of qualities one possesses. And we can all agree on that.
Leadership is a journey, and a leader is a personality that takes time and experiences to build.
Now, you may be a student, a manager, an entrepreneur or a seriously bored guy looking around for some leadership inspiration, and maybe you’ve landed on the right page.
Here’s the first thing you need to know: **Inspiration can come from anywhere! **
If you’re an entrepreneur trying to run a business and the only people you look up to for leadership lessons are other successful entrepreneurs, then you might not make it.
And the reason is, leadership and leadership qualities are quite abstract and can’t be labelled under a category.
Today, I will try to prove the above statement by showcasing 4 of the greatest leaders of their time and profession. We’ll be taking examples from Sports, History, Entrepreneurship and Politics and see how they all showed similar and yet different characteristics in their personalities, which can only be described as the personalities of great leaders!
Are you ready to get inspired?
Sir Alex Ferguson
Category: Sports (Football)
Profession: Head coach and Manager
Alex Chapman Ferguson or popularly known as Sir Alex (born 31 December 1941) is a former football manager who was revolutionary in leading Manchester United (an English football club) to absolute dominance in the football world.
The Scottish manager was appointed after his success with the local club Aberdeen in 1986. Sir Alex retired as the manager of Manchester United in 2013 after his reign of over 26 years.
So, what did he accomplish in those 26 years?
Sir Alex won 38 trophies during his time at United including 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups and 2 Champions League trophies.
If you’re not into much of sports or football, let’s just say he is considered the best manager in the history of football and some may even argue that he was the best in the sports world. No manager has won as many trophies as Sir Alex did.
In fact, he was so good that he got knighted by the Queen of England for his excellence in the world of football. His management skills have been considered unparalleled. This is the reason that even today, he’s invited to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and other top universities to talk on management and leadership.
Now, come back to yourself, your workplace or the very reason you’re reading this blog and ask yourself, is that achievable?
Sir Alex is not considered great because of the trophies or because of his football tactics, but the fact that he did it all consistently for over 26 years!
Most people lose the drive after winning something but Sir Alex was way ahead of everyone. He didn’t see himself winning a single year but every year after year, and he envision it all before he even took the first step!
He was a visionary!
The arrival of Alex Ferguson
When Sir Alex arrived at Manchester in 1986, the club was in complete shambles. The club was at the bottom of the league table.
There was a drinking culture in the English Football at the time and players after games drank regularly. There was no professionalism and no sportsmanship. And because Sir Alex was Scottish, the well established English players at the club didn’t think highly of him.
After winning 3 Scottish Leagues with Aberdeen, Alex Chapman Ferguson found himself in a mess of a club with drunk and unfit players, no structure at the club and the fact he was foreign didn’t help the situation at all.
Alex Ferguson’s vision
Every leader needs to have a clear and crisp vision to succeed in any field. And so did Sir Alex. When he arrived at Manchester, the rival club Liverpool were enjoying a prolonged success, winning 18 titles in recent decades. They were the champions and Manchester United were nobodies.
His vision was to create a system that will produce a team after team, year on year with a winning mentality.
He knew signing great players of the time will only lead to success in the short term but he was a man of vision. He wanted to dominate English Football. He didn’t just want to reach the top, but he wanted to stay at the top for decades!
And everything he did after was to achieve his long term vision.
He instilled discipline in his club.
Discipline was an important part of Sir Alex’s reign. He wanted players to come on time, behave like professionals, and stay off from the drinking and smoking.
He believed fitness was the most important thing to achieve success in football, and if anybody had problems with that was shown the door.
Sir Alex moved on a lot of players who were not ready to fit his style of training and discipline. A lot of players who played under him have shared stories of him showing up at parties in the city to scold his players.
He took discipline very seriously.
“Once you bid farewell to discipline, you say goodbye to success”
Laying correct foundation
A strong foundation is a must to have for a strong future. This rule applies in all walks of life. Sir Alex ensured that he laid the right foundation, which eventually became the reason for his paramount success.
When it came to laying the foundation at a football club, he knew the young are the future. So, on arrival at Manchester, he established two “centres of excellence” for young kids (from the age of nine) and increased his scouting network.
He hired more scouts and delegated the search across Europe to find young talented players with the potential to become world-class.
This scouting network was bigger than any other club and became the factory which produced world-class players for Ferguson’s United.
One of the first players to come through this setup was the footballing sensation, David Beckham.
One of the greatest attributes of Sir Alex was his man-management skills. As a manager of a giant club, his job revolved around people, managing players, coaching staff, recruiting staff and more.
He knew that each individual is different and behaves differently in a particular situation. While some may say that you should treat all of your staff members equally, Sir Alex had different opinions.
He invested a lot of his time interacting with players and knowing their individual personalities. Witnesses at the time say that he could even understand his players’ mood on a particular day!
Sir Alex quickly figured out which of his players would perform better if he screamed at them and which one will perform better if he put his arm around them.
He treated every player individually, which made everyone love him!
Imagine, your boss telling you to do something in exactly the way you want them to say it and not how they think it should be conveyed to you.
Harvard Business Review calls it the Ferguson Formula.
Ferguson was not only in charge of the football team but the entire club. From youth set up to nutrition, to fitness to recruiting, he was managing it all.
One of his virtues was to treat everybody with respect. He knew everyone working at the club.
Now you must’ve seen CEOs sitting in their offices not knowing who works for them, let alone know their names.
Sir Alex Ferguson knew everyone personally. He knew their names and a little bit about their families too!
From the guard at the gate, the kit washers to the tea lady at the canteen, and the players, he greeted everyone every day.
This respect that he gave everyone at the club made each individual feel like a part of the club and not just a source of a paycheck.
Even when the club won major trophies, all of the staff were invited to the canteen for a bottle of champagne and pictures with the trophy.
Sir Alex Ferguson was constantly looking ahead and following his vision to build a football club. His leadership qualities and people skills helped him to reach the pinnacle of success. His foundation produced world-class players and teams who couldn’t stop winning.
A reign that will never be replicated. A legend of the game. A legend of his time!
Profession: Businessman; Franchisor
Moving from sports and football to business. Ray Kroc was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the century.
If you don’t know him, then one word should be enough to describe him: McDonald’s.
He may not have founded McDonald’s but he was the reason why you can enjoy McDonald’s anywhere in the world!
Ray Kroc born on October 5, 1902, was a failing entrepreneur and a salesman. He had tried his hands at several business ideas and none of them ever worked.
In 1954 at the age of 52, Ray Kroc was struggling to sell his Prince Castle Multi-Mixers which were basically mixers to make milkshakes. He was failing miserably and one fine afternoon, he came across a small hamburger shop in San Bernandino, California.
The burger shop was very simple and had very few items on the menu. Hamburgers, fries, milkshakes and soft drinks. The owners of the shop, Richard and Maurice McDonald really liked Kroc’s mixers and decided to buy several of his machines.
Curious, Kroc asked why did they want to purchase so many mixers for their restaurant. This opened a conversation between the three. Ray suggested that they should expand their presence as the food they were serving was fast and delicious.
The brothers had no idea about American consumerism, they decided to give this job to Ray Kroc, who became their national agent.
And the rest is history.
Ray Kroc’s vision
Ray Kroc saw something which he hadn’t seen in the restaurant industry. The restaurant run by the Mcdonald brothers was very well organized, the staff was well dressed, and the food was delicious and served quickly.
At the time, the fast-food industry was not established as it’s now. But Ray saw an opportunity to expand this style of restaurants to every part of the country.
He first envisioned 8 restaurants by the name of Mcdonald’s Hamburgers. The idea was that 8 new restaurants will generate enough funds to expand and franchise the brand even further.
Ray Kroc saw potential when the owners of the restaurant didn’t see themselves.
He had a vision and later he made it a reality.
Kroc believed in hard work and determination. He believed that the more work you put into something the more chance you have to be successful. He did the same.
Ray started to expand the McDonald’s franchise ensuring that the customer standards are met. He laid down specific operating principles which were similar to the original blueprints set by McDonald’s brothers.
In his first year as the national agent of McDonald’s, he sold 18 franchise in total.
“Luck is a dividend of sweat. The more you sweat, the luckier you get.”
Importance of advisors
Financial Wizard was something Ray referred to Harry Sonnenborne, who was a financial advisor and apparently, a genius.
When Ray wasn’t making enough profits out of the franchises he was selling, Harry gave him an incredible idea.
Instead of selling only the franchise to people, Harry got Ray into the real estate business.
Ray with Harry’s help, started selling franchises only on the condition that the franchise’s property would be provided by Ray himself. And franchisees would pay a monthly rental for the land or a percentage of the sales, whichever was higher.
This completely changed the outcome of profits for Ray. Soon, he started seeing his profit as well.
Sometimes it’s important to be relentless in a business for it to succeed. Ray was relentless when it came to his vision and his plans for the future of McDonald’s.
After he started making profits out of the real estate as well as the franchises, he envisioned over 1,000 restaurants all across the globe.
But his discussions with the McDonald brothers were getting in the way. So, he decided to buy them out as he wished for complete control.
Ray paid the brothers a sum of $2.7 million for handing over the rights of McDonald’s to him.
He later found out that the original restaurant in San Bernandino was not part of the deal.
Relentlessly, he opened a brand new McDonald’s a block away from the original restaurant which had been renamed to The Big M.
The Big M went out of business 6 years later.
Strive for perfection
Everything is not perfect but Ray Kroc ensured that his customers got the best quality service whichever McDonald’s they visited.
He wrote down a 75-page manual that was handed out to every new franchise owner of the restaurant.
The manual had everything about running the operations, portions of food and even cleanliness standards of the restaurant.
In 1961, he opened a training facility in the basement of a McDonald’s in Illinois, which later became the Hamburger University.
Ray Kroc had the vision and the genius to create a whole new level of the fast-food industry. His leadership skills were unparalleled. What he accomplished inspired a generation of restauranteurs and entrepreneurs to try to accomplish what he had with McDonald’s.
But there will be only one Ray Kroc.
Alaric - I
Profession: King; War General
When anybody mentions history or about the dark ages through the middle ages, everyone immediately imagines Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, or Achillies.
Even though Alexander and Genghis were the greatest leaders of their era, there were many other leaders who didn’t get the recognition they deserved.
Alaric - I was one of them.
Alaric was born on Peuce Island at the mouth of Danube Delta (present-day Romania). Alaric was part of the noble Balti Dynasty of Tervingian Goths.
Alaric became the first king of Visigoths and was responsible for the sack of Rome, which was a crucial step in the downfall of the Western Roman Empire.
When Alaric was just a young boy, his tribe was under constant threat from the Huns, who were on a rise under the command of Attila the Hun. Because of this threat, Goths made a mass migration across the Danube river and had to fight a war with Rome.
Eventually, Goths were allowed to settle down inside the imperial boundaries of Rome. To reduce the cost of wars and excessive taxation, Goths were recruited as soldiers to fight for the Roman Empire.
Young boys and men were forced to join the Roman army if they wanted to keep their settlements.
Alaric was recruited at an early age by Roman soldiers and was trained to fight the way Romans did.
In 394, Alaric was elected as the leader of foederati under the rule of Theodosius I. Foederati were referred to the Germanic states to which Romans provided benefits in exchange of military.
While serving as the leader of foederati, Alaric learned about the weaknesses of the Roman Army and Italy’s defences as a whole.
Theodosius died in 395, leaving the Roman Empire to his two sons Arcadius & Honorius. This change in power led to the divide of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western parts. Both sons taking each part of the empire.
During this change, Alaric expected to be promoted to a higher-ranking general of the empire. However, he had forgotten that he was a Goth. He was immediately denied any promotions.
At this time, Visigoths in Lower Moesia (now part of Romania and Bulgaria) had bonded together for a rebellion against the Roman Empire for treating them awfully.
The Romans’ idea to recruit Goths was to push them on the frontlines. This saved their elite soldiers and at the same time reduced the population of Goths.
After learning the truth, Alaric joined the rebellion and became the first king of Visigoths.
Alaric led the charge in multiple battles against the Eastern and then Western Empire.
Alaric laid siege on Rome three times and after being defeated the first two times, he was able to penetrate the impenetrable city of Rome.
Rome had fallen after 800 years!
But Alaric showed mercy to the people inside the city, even though they were not kind to his people. After capturing the most impenetrable city in the history of humanity, Alaric and his men only stayed for three days.
Alaric now wanted to invade Africa, which would’ve helped him take control of entire Italy. But his ships were caught in a storm and Alaric lost most of his force in the storm.
Alaric died soon after in Cosenza because of fever.
According to legend, his disciples and remaining army blocked a river’s stream and buried him in the riverbed. After burying him, the river was released to flow over his grave.
The people who did the burial were killed so that no one will know where the first king of Visigoths laid to rest.
Unlike other leaders mentioned in this article, Alaric was from a very different time and yet he had a vision like any other leader.
Coming from a small tribe which was on the run from threats all the time, Alaric saw himself becoming successful in the field which was popular at the time; Conquest.
After training under the Roman army, Alaric had learned every weakness of the Great Roman Army.
He not only wanted to provide a better life to his people but he also dared to challenge the most established and biggest empire humanity had ever seen.
But he was not just a barbarian as Romans thought of him, he was a strategist.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to fulfil his vision due to lack of medical knowledge of the time.
But he did something that made history remember him and his tribe of Goths.
A nobody rose to power, united small tribes and sacked a impenetrable city, which was undefeated for over 800 years!
During the dark and middle ages, every soldier needed to have the courage to survive and claim victories.
But Alaric’s courage was unparalleled.
He was not a thoughtless soldier marching into battle with adrenaline, he was composed and believed that anything was possible with the right steps.
There were many acts of courage from Alaric, but the biggest one was to rebel against Rome and the injustice his people had faced because of them.
People will only follow you if you have a vision as a leader but most importantly, a strategy to achieve the said vision.
Alaric was way ahead of his enemies because he didn’t have the numbers. He instinctively knew that the Roman army was thrice the size of his army.
After failing the first two times trying to lay siege on Rome, Alaric realized he needed to change his strategy.
With his previous contacts in the Romany army, he was able to convince a few people to open the northeast gates of the city.
This was monumental in breaching Rome and sacking the city.
A strategy is always important but sometimes changing it is of equal importance.
"The thicker the hay; the easier mowed."
Whether in business or in life, a leader needs to have great analytical skills. Alaric was one of the leaders with great analytical skills, especially when it came to war and battle.
After being crowned as the first king of Visigoths, Alaric marched his troops to attack the Eastern Empire.
During the invasion in 401, Alaric lost a close battle against the Empire.
However, he quickly analyzed that he won’t be able to defeat the entire Roman Empire alone. So he made allies with Stilicho, who was at the time the guardian for Theodosius’ son Honorius, who was the rightful ruler of the western empire.
There was tension between the eastern and western empires and with Alaric at Stilicho’s side. Stilicho urged his ministers to claim the eastern empire under Honorius’ name. Alaric declared that if his army isn’t used in the war, he should still get paid as an expense of mobilization. The peer pressure from Stilicho convinced the ministers to promise Alaric that pay.
Because of Stilicho and Alaric’s relationship, things started to bubble politically in the western empire court. After a few months, Stilicho and his ministers were slaughtered on Honorius’ orders.
Stilicho’s death opened the opportunity for Alaric to lay siege on Rome. Stilicho was the only commander who had experienced war, and with him not being there to defend Rome, the city was as fragile as glass.
Alaric analyzed all the possible outcomes and he realized that allying with Stilicho will pay off in one way or the other. Either Stilicho would help him destroy the eastern empire or it will stir conspiracies in the western court. And with Stilicho out of the picture to defend Rome, the battle can turn in the favour of Goths.
A leader needs to be persistence despite the challenges and hurdles one faces. Believing in yourself and your ideas need the persistence to be successful.
Alaric was very persistent. He attacked Rome three times.
There were other Goth leaders who tried to side with the Romans to fight against Alaric. The numbers of Alaric army wasn’t enough to take on the Roman army but Alaric was persistent in achieving his goal to penetrate the city.
And after years of battles and sacrifices, on August 24th, 410, Alaric finally broke into the walls of the city and achieved his goal.
Alaric-I was a tribal boy born and raised by war. He never despised his luck nor his life. He used the teaching of his enemies to do something no empire ever dared to do. He was a great king and a leader filled with courage and passion.
No one will forget Alaric-I, the first king of Visigoths to sack the holy city of Rome after 800 years.
Profession: Political Leader; Revolutionary
Moving from ancient history to recent history, Nelson Mandela needs no introduction.
He was a revolutionary who played a crucial role in abolishing Apartheid in Africa.
Mandela was a non-violent individual, and his non-violence movement was monumental in abolishing Apartheid.
Nelson Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in a small village called Mvezo, located in Umtata.
Coming from a tribe, Mandela got his British education from an early age at a methodist school.
In 1941, Mandela came to Johannesburg to avoid a pre-arranged marriage. Coming to an urban city, he was quickly introduced to Apartheid. He began working as an articled clerk at a law firm where he met multiple people from the ANC (The African National Congress). Meeting people from ANC gave Mandela exposure to understand the racial situation in the country. This also made him realize the ultimate goal of his life.
In 1943, Mandela began studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand. He was the only black student at the university, which resulted in a lot of racism.
In August of 1943, Mandela participated in a march to boycott buses for increasing their fares. In the same year, Nelson met Anton Lembede, who was an ANC member and was affiliated with “Africanist” branch.
Together, Mandela and Lembede decided they needed a youth wing to start the revolution to abolish Apartheid. In 1944, on an Easter Sunday, ANCYL (African National Congress Youth League) was founded. Lembede took charge as the president of the organization and Mandela was chosen as a member of its executive committee.
In 1947, Lembede was rushed to a hospital where he passed away. Lembede was succeeded by Peter Mda as the president of ANCYL. Peter appointed Mandela as the secretary but Mandela didn’t agree with his policies of negotiating with communists and non-blacks.
In 1948 during the general elections where only whites were allowed to vote, the National Party was formed and won the election. This party was openly racist and decided to expand the racial segregation & new Apartheid legislation.
Mandela started gaining influence in ANC. With the help of ANC, Mandela was able to start protests, rallies and boycotts against Apartheid. Mandela soon became the president of ANC.
In 1952, Mandela prepared for a joint defiance campaign. The campaign was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and followed non-violence practices. While people accepted because of its non-violent nature, Mandela accepted it because it was pragmatic.
In June of the same year, Mandela was arrested for addressing a protestant rally of 10,000 people. This arrest made Mandela the most influential and powerful black politician in South Africa. The ANC quickly grew from 20,000 to a 100,000 and the government was forced to put martial laws to prevent revolutions.
After a few unsuccessful protests in 1955, Mandela realized that violent actions were needed in order to achieve the goal of no Apartheid.
In 1960, at one of the events to burn the passes which were mandatory for blacks to carry, 69 people were killed by the government actions. This started riots in South Africa.
The government after assessing the unrest in the country, banned ANC and other Africanist parties and arrested Mandela along with other activists.
In 1961, Mandela organized an All-in African Conference where 1,400 anti-Apartheid delegates met and agreed to have a stay at home strike. On 31st May, South Africa had become a republic.
Inspired by Fidel Castro’s revolution on 26th July in Cuba, Mandela co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”), which was abbreviated with MK.
MK group started sabotaging the government by committing violent actions with minimal casualties. They would bomb police stations, telephone lines, and other government infrastructure at night when there were no people. MK was responsible for over 57 bombings.
Mandela decided to travel to multiple countries to spread awareness of Apartheid and gain funds for his revolution. He was recalled by ANC to lead the organization.
In August 1962, Mandela was arrested along with his fellow activists. During the trial, Mandela was charged with acts of violence committed under MK. Mandela used this trial to spread awareness of Apartheid and the non-racism values of ANC than to defend himself.
During this trial, Mandela gave his infamous 3 hour-long speech, "I am Prepared to Die".
After being found guilty of the charges, Mandela was given life imprisonment.
Even though Mandela was imprisonment, his speech inspired millions of people globally. He became the symbol of Non-Apartheid movement.
Finally, Apartheid was abolished and South Africa held its first General Elections on 27th April 1994, where black people elected their first president, Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela’s vision
Ever since Mandela saw the ugly truth of Apartheid in Johannesburg, his goal was to achieve an equal country.
Nelson dedicated his life to achieve that goal. He was aware of the political situation in his country, which also made him plan ahead to achieve his vision of an equal South Africa.
One of the signs that showed him as a revolutionary and great leader was to adopt countermeasures to successfully lead his country to freedom.
Mandela was not stubborn when it came to the methods to invoke revolution in the hearts of his countrymen. He knew the plans were just stepping stones in achieving an Africa of people.
Nelson Mandela spent most of his life in prison. Every step he took in his political career was the cause of his imprisonment. He knew it but he still saw the greater good for the country.
Mandela was imprisoned in 1964 and spent over 16 years in prison without any guilt. Mandela’s attitude in freeing South Africa from Apartheid was commendable as he never gave up. He was prisoned several times before he got the life imprisonment sentence. Even then, nothing stopped him from pursuing the goal of his dreams; a free country.
His sedulous attitude is a testament to his leadership.
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up”
If you cannot forgive and move on with your life, you’ll always be stuck in a state of unrest. And a restless person can never become a leader.
Mandela lived through hell during his time in prison. And as he was about to be released, he had a lot of bitterness towards the people who put him there.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Mandela knew he had achieved his goal of abolishing Apartheid in his country. So, there was no reason to hold on to his bitterness towards the government who had put him there.
He knew it was time to move on and look ahead. It was time to shape the new South Africa, a country of equal rights and prosperity.
A leader needs to forgive his peers, his rivals and sometimes even his enemies for the sake of his/her own peace of mind.
This is probably the most important characteristic of an actual leader. If you’re not humble enough to include your peers in achieving your goal, then you probably aren’t a leader. Step down.
Nelson Mandela was a man of humility. He never used the power that was given to him as a tool to get what he wanted.
In fact, Mandela studied other leaders and revolutionaries to spark a fire in his struggle of achieving an Apartheid free country.
He used Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence movement in his own struggles of freedom.
“Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front”
The only thing my father taught me was patience; To be fair, I am still trying to master it. He always said, “Patience wins the game”. I really don’t know whether it was his own statement or he was quoting somebody.
But as I grew up and read about all the incredible leaders that I’ve mentioned in this post and many more that I wanted to mention in this post, I realized he was right.
Patience does win the game and it surely did for Nelson Mandela.
“We should not let an illusion of urgency force us to make decisions before we are ready.”
Nelson was patient throughout the struggles of Apartheid in his country. He was arrested multiple times, witnessed a lot of failures, and yet he was always calm like ripples on the surface of the water.
Even after spending 16 years of his life in prison, Mandela came out with a smile and looked forward towards building a new country under his vision.
He had won and his patience played a crucial role in achieving that.
Concluding, it can be said that leadership qualities can be learned from every walk of life. Leaders are not just in business or an office environment. Leaders are everywhere. In fact, leaders are synonymous with passionate human beings who possess empathy.
In this article, I tried to share 4 of the most interesting leadership stories and how these men achieved their vision with the qualities they possessed. I hope they inspire you to not just strive towards becoming a better leader but also a passionate and humble human being.
Until next time.