November 1, 2017

The Top Five Leadership Lessons I Learned from Historical Leaders


Gary Polson, Cydcor CEO, speaking on stage.
Top Five Leadership Lessons I Learned from Historical Leaders

There are no better examples of leadership than the legacies of our great historical leaders. While they achieved tremendous fame, they did not do so without facing the occasional failure and enduring hardship. As we strive to become better leaders and learn how to inspire others, we would do well to reflect on the greatest leaders from history to see the characteristics, mentality, and habits that allowed these most revered leaders challenge norms, empower the oppressed, galvanize action, and spark change.


Here are the five best leadership lessons I learned from some of my favorite historical leaders:


Lesson One: Learn from the Past

The best sources for what works in leadership are the lessons of the past. The trials and tribulations of historical leaders, while sometimes on a grander scale than our own lives, can teach us how to succeed or fail. We can learn how to lead effectively from reading about or watching movies on history, and anyone hoping to become a better leader should make a habit of it. Why make your own mistakes when you can benefit from the lessons learned by those who eventually achieved greatness? Study their lives, follow in their footsteps, and apply their leadership approaches as you drive your own team to reach its goals.


Lesson Two: Character Matters

The greatest historical leaders knew that character can often matter even more than ideas when it comes to leading others to find the greatness in themselves. Benjamin Franklin identified Thirteen Critical Virtues necessary for a successful live and vowed to exemplify them. George Washington is admired for his honesty, and Gandhi demonstrated remarkable restraint and self-discipline in his use of non-violent protest to drive change. Whether reading about George Washington, Ben Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, their character stood out and earned them respect, built trust with others, and translated to a highly-regarded reputation.

You must be bold, and you must accept that you will sometimes fail. Share on X


Lesson Three: Take Risks

You must be bold, and you must accept that you will sometimes fail. Failing can be an important stop on route to success. Lincoln lost a number of elections, including the Illinois Senate race in 1858, yet he ran for President in 1860. Washington struggled to win a major battle against the British for years, yet he had the courage to stay the course. Gandhi, King and Mandela were humiliated for many years on their paths toward civil rights and representation. Facing the occasional failure is a sign that you took on challenges, pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone, and it is an opportunity to prove your resilience and willingness to learn from your mistakes.


Lesson Four: You are Not a Victim of Your Circumstances

We can rise above poverty, lack of education, or lack of support to achieve greatness. Charlie Chaplin grew up in the direst circumstances, reminiscent of a Dickens novel, yet he revolutionized silent film. Men and women who had once been slaves and peasants, overcame the odds to become generals, emperors, and queens. While challenges can sometimes feel insurmountable, the stories of remarkable historical leaders prove that even when things seem hopeless, determination, passion, and grit can overcome the odds.

History teaches that our potential is boundless if we are willing to push ourselves. Share on X


Lesson Five: Self Discipline is a Must

Lincoln had just one year of formal education, but he read constantly to feed his curiosity and continued to expand his knowledge. Franklin devised ways to improve his character by evaluating himself daily, assessing one character trait each day. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were relentless in their routines to develop their skills and conditioning. The stories of great leaders of the past up to the present teach that our potential is boundless if we are willing to push ourselves. Achieving greatness as a leader means having the passion and drive to continuously transform yourself and expand your boundaries. Nobody will do that for you. To become a leader that can inspire others and provoke action, you must first be willing to lead yourself.


History is full of incredible stories of leaders who rose above their circumstances, exemplified character, and endured and overcame setbacks on their path to success. By studying their stories and seeking to understand which qualities and actions allowed them to achieve greatness, you can improve your own chances of doing the same. The stories of historical leaders are a goldmine from which I have learned so much about the kind of leader I hope to be.


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Gary Polson is Chief Executive Officer and Chairman at Cydcor, the market leader in outsourced sales. With more than 25 years of business operations experience in accounting, legal and senior management, Gary has propelled Cydcor to unprecedented achievement with clients, culture and philanthropy since 2001. Under his leadership, Cydcor has increased its revenue more than six-fold since 2001 and has been recognized as “…the most respected sales outsourcing company in the world” by Datamonitor and The Black Book of Outsourcing, one of the “Best Places to Work” by the Los Angeles Business Journal for eight consecutive years. Gary’s passion for excellence and never-satisfied approach has led Cydcor to earn both industry and employer recognition. With Gary at its helm, Cydcor has built its reputation on maintaining long term relationships with clients by consistently delivering results and by going above and beyond to help Cydcor’s clients gain market share and grow.