I don’t know about you, but on my leadership journey, I want to positively impact the people who I’ll come in contact with to leave a legacy as a great, positive, leader. Leadership has provided and will continue to provide, many challenges for me. This article will take a historical glimpse of political leadership throughout the millennia. Reflecting upon their successes and struggles may help build your leadership acumen.

In order to achieve the result of being called a great leader, the political leaders we’ve read about throughout the years encountered some of the same challenges that we face today. There are four challenges that I see as obstacles to achieving success and becoming a great leader, as the historical figures were able to do. These challenges/concepts are:

  1. Creating a vision
  2. Operating with integrity
  3. Exhibiting Courage/Confidence
  4. Understanding people

Vision is unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight. Great leaders have unusual competence and intelligent foresight. Look at the leadership ability of Dr. Martin Luther King, who declared his vision for equality for all races. As a recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King is widely considered a great leader of the modern era. But, Dr. King did not achieve this status without challenges. Dr. King’s vision and method of success were met with heavy opposition from both outsiders and his own constituents. Some of this opposition was in the form of subtle resistance while other conflicts arose with overt hostility. No matter the description of the opposition, it’s certain that there will be challenges in getting one’s vision to materialize.

This is a challenge that I have encountered and will continue to encounter in my leadership journey. I take solace in knowing that great leaders before me have overcome this obstacle through clear communication and perseverance. Max De Pree, a renowned businessman, author, and CEO believed that leaders have the obligation to inspire through their vision. He was quoted as saying, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality… ” Dr. King defined what he believed reality could be, great leaders must do the same.

Great, positive, leaders have operated with integrity throughout time. Integrity is practicing honesty and exhibiting sound values. Take President Abraham Lincoln and his quest to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress, for example. Through his actions, President Lincoln, always did his best to abide by his oath to protect the Constitution no matter what. This is a prime example of a great, positive, leader maintaining his integrity through a very difficult change process.

President Lincoln’s dedication to his oath to the Constitution is not only admirable, but it’s also necessary. As challenging as it may be, in the political landscape, or any other leadership position, if you don’t operate with honor and integrity eventually, that dishonesty will become a pattern. As a leader, you must be able to live with the decisions you make. In President Lincoln’s case, I believe his integrity was tied to his oath to protect the Constitution, and I think ultimately, he was able to live with his decisions because he adhered to his principles.

The next big theme that I found great leaders exhibit is courage and confidence. Courage is a mindset that allows a person to do something they’ve feared. Confidence is a mindset that is developed for an expected result. I believe confidence is built when the desired outcome of a questionable decision is favorable. Moses was a perfect example of this confidence. Moses frequently doubted his ability to lead millions of Israelites out of Egypt into the land of Canaan. This doubt first began with his ability to speak with Pharaoh, then with performing miracles on God’s behalf, then with leading the people.

Moses developed courage through obedience to God. This courage enabled Moses to ask Pharaoh to let his people go. Moses had the courage to perform miracles and, with help, to lead his people. He developed confidence in God through his obedience. God told Moses to do many things, and the more Moses was able to see the expected results the more confidence he built. People fear the unknown, and they are sometimes resistant to things they’re not familiar with. Leaders need the courage to execute those things.

Political leaders must also understand people. A good example of this was Lyndon B. Johnson. Understanding people may be the most difficult aspect of leadership because of the variety of personalities and agendas. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson exhibited his ability to understand people when having to negotiate with activist Dr. Martin Luther King and politician George Wallace who had two opposing views. Lyndon Johnson was masterful at understanding the needs of all parties, including the country, and he was able to compromise when needed.

This demonstration of understanding people by LBJ is a hallmark of great leadership. In fact, understanding people may very well be the foundation of effective leadership. World-renowned author and pastor, John Maxwell, said, “The ability to understand people is one of the greatest assets anyone can ever have. It has the potential to positively impact every area of your life.” Acquiring these skills will help your leadership journey.

While you may not reach the national political leadership level, there are a number of lessons to be learned from the great leaders mentioned in this article. The four areas: vision, integrity, courage/confidence and understanding people have been the major themes of leadership that should be addressed. The political leaders of yesteryear will help you develop into a great leader today.