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3 Key Lessons From Great Leaders of the Past

August 22, 20225 min read

Commanders and staff members are to visit the front daily to observe, not to meddle. Praise is more valuable than blame. Your primary mission as a leader is to see with your own eyes and be seen by your troops while engaged in personal reconnaissance. - General George S. Patton, Jr.


What makes a great leader? While there is no one answer to this question, there are a few common characteristics that many of the greatest leaders of all time seem to share. In this blog post, we will take a look at three leadership lessons from some of history's most successful leaders. Whether you are looking to improve your own leadership skills or simply gain some insight into what makes these individuals so successful, you're sure to find something useful here.

8 Reasons

So without further ado, let's get started!

1: Mahatma Gandhi

Even though Gandhi died in 1948, he still struggled with something that we all view as a modern problem. In today's society, taking personal accountability for one's actions is rare and refreshing. Today we blame everything and everyone else for every problem other than ourselves. For example, is it really fast food companies and soda companies that are causing us to be fat? Or is it our lack of discipline to control what we put in our bodies? As long as we continue the "blame game," we will never get a resolution to any of our problems. Gandhi taught that when we stop letting outside forces cloud our vision, we will ultimately be able to see that the cause of most of our problems is us. Gandhi once said, "A lying tongue is an unqualified physician that can cause more diseases than it can cure." We would all do well to remember these words the next time we are tempted to point the finger at someone else for our problems. Only by taking personal responsibility for our actions can we hope to achieve lasting change in our world.

2: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the worst types of leaders is the leader who procrastinates. Good leaders must be able to think on their feet, make timely decisions, and take action without hesitation. In the Army, we are taught that the worst thing we can do as leaders is inaction. Inaction or procrastination will almost always get someone killed. No matter what situation you find yourself in, this rule always applies. While it may not get someone killed outside of the military, it will always have unwanted consequences. Therefore as leaders, we must always be moving, thinking, or planning. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, "Great leaders refuse to accept the status quo. In fact, I would say that this is the defining characteristic of real leaders. They are not passive; they are active. They are unwilling to acquiesce to their circumstances."

3: General George S. Patton, Jr.

This last one covers a massive amount of ground. General Patton was one of the most feared leaders in World War 2 and was loved by his men. In almost every case, when a Soldier from Patton's unit was interviewed, he would start by saying how horrible working under Patton was. But would always finish by saying that Patton was the greatest leader, and they were proud to have served under him.

This was a standing order from General Patton:
"Commanders and staff members are to visit the front daily to observe, not to meddle. Praise is more valuable than blame. Your primary mission as a leader is to see with your own eyes and be seen by your troops while engaged in personal reconnaissance."

A. Visit to observe, not to meddle. How many leaders have we all known that needed to learn this lesson? I had a conversation with a leader a few days ago; he said he believes that leaders and managers are the same. While the two words have different meanings, a leader must manage, and a manager must lead. I told this person that it was not my job to manage. That is the job of the members of my team. My job is to lead them through the process of them managing their tasks, projects, etc. When you manage your people, you are meddling in their tasks. This is also known as micromanaging.

. Praise is more valuable than blame. One of the most detrimental things a leader can do is take all the glory and assign all the blame. This is pretty self-explanatory, so I'm just going to leave it there.

C. A leader is to see with your own eyes and be seen. A leader must be present with their teams. Not interfering with work, but helping where they can, watching the team's processes, and carefully giving constructive criticism where they need to. When team members see their leader working alongside them, it will provide them with a greater sense of pride in their work, foster more trust in the leader, and will go a long way to help build a positive relationship with each team member.

These are just a few lessons I have learned from the great leaders of history. I hope this will help you become the leader that you need to be. If you haven't done so, visit the Renowned Leadership website at and check out our free checklist to help build better long-lasting personal relationships. And while you are there, check out the other ways we can help you become a better leader.

HistoryLeadershipManagement Leadership DevelopmentLeadership TrainingTeam Leader
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Stephen J. Morris

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