Leadership Lessons

Each year across the globe, countless countries acknowledge their rich heritage and heroes even as other countries find themselves currently in a struggle for identity and/or independence.

An individual’s perspective is shaped by which side of the struggle they find themselves. While stating the obvious, each country has its own history, tradition, and heroes that it celebrates, and for good reason. For those in the U.S., the summer is our time to be reminded of the struggle for independence.

Reflecting on history illustrates common leadership threads that are consistent across time and geography. These struggles demonstrate how many layers of leadership band together into a unified force. Often this banding together is more chaotic than orderly.

These threads are instructive for business leaders as they work to lead their organizations through the many challenges in today’s marketplace, including the competitive, regulatory, or the general economic stress today’s organizations find themselves.

Great Leaders

The work of sovereignty requires great leaders who are able to lead in what is often referred to as “charismatic” or “transformational” styles. This is often talked about within an academic setting that feels clinical and dreamlike.

In addition, much of the literature describes leader composites equivalent to characters one would expect to find in Greek mythology, or the super heroes of Marvel and DC comics.

Often these descriptions are easier to describe on paper and the many leadership models that exist, but much harder to find examples in real life; much less live up to as an individual leader.

Great Leaders

The Struggle for Sovereignty

Leaders are faced—simultaneously—with difficult decisions that impact their personal interests as well as those of the collective whole. At times, these decisions are in conflict with each other.

Frequently, there is no formula, no model, and no body of literature to help these leaders navigate these difficult choices. Even if there were, many times there is no time. A decision, normally a gut-wrenching decision, must be made. Are these leaders confident; maybe cautiously optimistic?

When leaders find themselves in these situations (good leaders), are often full of humility and doubt at the same time. Confidence comes later, after some time has passed and results or consequences emerge. Many times, leaders will continue to ask the “what if” questions even as those around them are celebrating their leadership insight.

Related:  8 Core Competencies Leaders Need to Sustain Performance

Personal Sacrifice

Another thread is personal sacrifice. Sacrifice seems like an archaic idea. This idea may especially seem out of place for organizational leadership in an era of golden handcuffs, parachutes, IPOs, and numerous organizational perks. But as you reflect on leaders from history, sacrifice is a common thread.

Often leaders never experience the final condition of independence, much less return to their former position as land or business owners. Sacrifice frequently extends beyond the individual leader to those closest to them, including friends and family.

Possessions and positions are exchanged for principles that are timeless. As these leaders are making difficult decisions and personal sacrifices, they continue to lead with courage and resolve.


Courage is another, although not a final, thread to consider. It seems right to expect leaders, fighting for sovereignty, to have courage. We often associate courage with bravery in the face of physical threat.

From an organizational perspective, courageous leadership is also needed when faced with uncertainty, intimidation, or a myriad of other fears that influence people’s beliefs and ultimately shape behavior. Too often, the absence of courage has led to the many scandals that damage the trust others have in the organization, and its leaders.


What additional leadership threads come to mind for you as you reflect on leadership in history? What about leaders in your past? Those real men and women with a name, a face, specific aspirations, and struggles. I suspect each story is not as cut-and-dried as one often finds in today’s leadership literature.

What Leadership Lessons Can We Take from History?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Stephen Carman
Stephen is an organizational Talent Development Architect & Strategist. He has a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management and is pursuing a Ph.D in Organization & Management at Capella University.