Leadership and Management Skills

The Greatest Leaders of All Time - Thinkstock

Who are the greatest leaders of all time?

What exactly makes a great leader? Whether you believe people are born to succeed, or can acquire the skills needed to rise to the top, it is clear there are certain traits and characteristics such individuals have in common.

Great leaders are visionaries with lofty ambitions, but also the insight and measure required to adopt the right strategy in each situation. They are hard-working, resilient, and positive - a quality which rubs off on the people they are responsible for.

In addition, leaders have the ability to inspire and help others reach their potential - something which requires great communication and motivation skills. Personal integrity, a strong moral fibre and commitment to core values are also important.

Very often, the best leaders have experienced failure in their early life, and having learned from their setbacks, they have been driven on to greater successes. Being humble, respectful and approachable empowers leaders - it ensures people buy into what they have to say. This means they will be more willing to follow, even in the most trying of circumstances.

History is littered with figures who have displayed great leadership and management skills, and ultimately achieved far more than could have been expected of them. Here are five examples - leaders who used no little skill, courage and determination in their management role, and ultimately secured their place in world history:

  • Winston Churchill

Britain's war leader is often credited as a driving force for the Allied Forces' victory in World War II. Churchill was a great orator, who spoke with passion and vigour - certainly not someone afraid of his own voice. His communication skills were evidenced through his famous wartime radio broadcasts, which helped keep British spirits up.

Churchill's failures as a cabinet member earlier in life gave him added motivation to succeed in his second coming as a politician. After being an outspoken critic of Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s, he stepped into what looked like an impossible job as prime minister following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain in 1940.

During Sir Winston's political career, he showed fearlessness, skill and no little patriotism towards his nation. As UK Prime Minister, he united a nation under aerial bombardment - one facing a dire shortage of resources. But through his leadership skills, Churchill helped keep morale high throughout the six-year conflict.

Despite suffering from ill-health, Churchill continued his political career after the war, and won a general election in 1951 just a month short of his 77th birthday. Demonstrating great passion and resilience, he continued as prime minister until his retirement at the age of 80.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte

Although a somewhat controversial figure in 19th century politics, Napoleon Bonaparte is considered by many to be a great military leader. Short in stature but high in ambition, he overcame his physical limitations to rise quickly through the ranks. Under his command, the French army managed to conquer much of Europe and develop a large empire.

Bonaparte became Emperor of France in 1804, which at the time was an unenviable job. However, his leadership skills helped to bring an end to lawlessness and disorder in his home country - one that was still finding its feet following the revolution. Bonaparte was known for his great risk taking, and respected for his willingness to lead from the front in battle.

  • Nelson Mandela

Few leaders in modern human history have achieved what Nelson Mandela has in becoming a true global figurehead, widely respected around the world. His rise to the top of South African politics following a long period of imprisonment took great courage, determination and no little skill. The anti-apartheid activist became president of his home nation in 1994, and began the process of rebuilding a country heavily divided along racial lines.

Mandela's unwavering focus and will characterised his time in power, as he become a symbol for freedom and unity. His decision to refuse the offer of conditional amnesty from president F. W. Botha while still imprisoned in 1985 took great bravery. This personal sacrifice - one made out of principle - helped elevate Mandela's position as the face of the anti-apartheid movement, giving him the chance to instigate change following his release.

  • Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln rose from the most humble of beginnings to become president of the United States, and arguably the nation's greatest national hero. A self-educated man known for his honesty, humanity and humility, Lincoln campaigned vigorously for the emancipation of slaves, in the face of fierce political opposition.

Aside from his role in the American Civil War, he also helped modernise the US economy, laying the foundations for unprecedented growth experienced in the decades to come. As well as being a visionary, Lincoln was also a great communicator who delivered many famous speeches, including the Gettysburg address.

  • Mahatma Gandhi

Like Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi paid the ultimate price for having courage in his convictions, suffering assassination at the hands of a rival. A proponent of non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi helped lead India to independence from the governing British Empire.

In doing so, he helped inspire civil rights movements around the world. An energetic political leader, Gandhi organised campaigns for women's rights, an end to poverty, religious pluralism and self-governance for the Indian people.