Famous Leaders and Their Traits

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Great leaders are either born or made and usually, they have one character trait that they are known for as it has driven their career and what has made them famous. Whether that is ambition, determination, fearlessness or something else ‘ it’s often the single-mindedness that has driven them to succeed.

1. Winston Churchill
Trait: Great orator


No other world leader can or ever has been able, even decades after being spoken, to send a chill up the spine of anybody listening. His commanding voice and eloquence of delivery was an inspiration to wartime Britain. His words encouraged the country to put aside petty selfishness in doing what is right and to look at the responsibility of being a British citizen, and for the country at the head of its (flagging) empire: You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

2. Nelson Mandela
Trait: Leading by example


Like many rebel leaders, Mandela never sought to overthrow one dominant form of government merely to supplant it with his own (though the accusation has been pointed at some of his successors), throughout his life Mandela preached forgiveness, reconciliation and dialogue and doing so peacefully despite that the people he represented having suffered such tremendous hardship. In this identification and rejection of hypocrisy he appealed to both black and white South Africans and was mourned the world over when he died in late 2013

3. Napoleon Bonaparte
Trait: Charisma


The ability to win people’s trust, confidence and inspire them to simply like you is one of the greatest character traits: politicians go to great lengths to encourage this even if they don’t actually succeed. Napoleon had intelligence and bravado in excess, and knew how to flatter people and show genuine appreciation for people who co-operated and helped him succeed. At winning the Italian campaign in 1797, he demanded gold and silver from the conquered Piedmont army but instead of keeping it he distributed amongst all of the soldiers, offering his personal thanks for their sacrifices

4. Cesar Chavez
Trait: Passion


If leftist radical have one thing in abundance, it is the ability to inspire people to speak up and act. Cesar Chavez, the labour and civil rights activist, knew how to work a crowd and the fact that he was ‘one of them’ (having begun his life as a farm worker), that gave him high standing. He co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, inspired the union movement in the 1960s and 1970s and promoted non-violent means in the pursuit of worker rights

5. Aung San Suu Kyi
Trait: Fearlessness


An advocate for democracy in a country ruled by a military junta is often taking their lives into their hands in persistently standing up to the ruling government. Aung San Suu Kyi is a pro-democracy leader who was jailed for 15 years in 1994 following her election victory until her release in 2010. What’s more, she always manages to show such amazing calm in the face of overwhelming danger. She has been lauded the world over for her pro-democracy work and is expected to run for the 2015 presidential elections in Myanmar.

6. Angela Merkel
Trait: Stoicism


The stereotype of the German is one of seriousness stoicism and a business-like attitude. The present German Chancellor seems to fit this role quite nicely. Nicknamed ‘The Iron Frau’ for her authoritarian approach, comparisons with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was inevitable but Merkel seems to outsiders far less aggressive and more of a harsh realist. Her tough handling of the Euro crisis may not have won her many friends in Europe and beyond but the harsh reality she presented did ring alarm bells for enough Germans for her continued approval in the country

7. Golda Meir
Trait: straight-talking


The first female politician to have been referred to as ‘Iron Lady’, the first Israeli female Prime Minister and indeed only the third woman in history to hold the title of Prime Minister anywhere; she was a no-nonsense, tough-talking militaristic leader who commanded respect at all levels of Israeli society. She also had a sense of humour as proven by this quote: Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!

8. Abraham Lincoln
Trait: Honesty


Honesty is indeed a rare treat in politicians but the most famous of US presidents was so well-known for it that he had the nickname ‘Honest Abe’. In his early days he worked in a store. Legend reports that when counting up the money at the end of one day he had too much cash and realised he had short-changed a woman. He trekked to her home to settle up the balance; a similar story exists about having accidentally given a woman too little tea

9. Christine Lagarde
Trait: Humour


Head of the IMF, she is considered one of the most powerful women in the world and she did it despite not having the right connections usually enjoyed by men and women at the top of the pile. A skilled orator and shrewd politician and statesmen, she is regularly complimented on her dead-pan humour ‘ it is said that she has a number of caricatures of herself around her office, including one of her dressed as a dominatrix!

10. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Trait: Visionary


The fall of the Ottoman Empire gave Turkey an opportunity to remove itself from the Caliphate philosophies of most of Islamic empire and forge a true secular democracy for the country. Atatürk means ‘Father of the Turks’. After defeating the Allied Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy et al) he began a massive expansion of public works which included new schools, primary education was state-funded and compulsory, and women were given rights not seen elsewhere in the Islamic world


All great leaders need to show a strong sense of who they are and what they stand for in order to appeal to those that they want to appeal to. We want our leaders to be strong and stand for actual values so that we know what we are voting for. Sometimes, traits are not vital to their jobs but are appreciated ‘ such as humour.

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