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Great Leaders of Our Time

Great Leaders of Our Time

There have been many great leaders in history who strove hard to make the world a better place to live in. Here are brief synopses of some of the most significant leaders of the world. Remember we can all have the courage to lead and make an impact. Even small acts of kindness, courage and leadership can have a ripple effect and can change the world. Call on that courage and be that change you want to see. Think about that legacy of who you want to be and what you want to stand for. Embrace that inner leadership and let’s all be the light.

Eva Peron

Maria Eva Duarte de Perón (also known as Eva Peron or by her nickname Evita) was the second wife of Juan Perón, the President of Argentina, which made her First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952. Her character, compassion and kindness etched her image not only in the minds of Argentines but the entire world in the 1940s and 1950s.

Although she dreamed of becoming an actress, meeting her future husband Juan Perón would change the direction of her life. Eva knew what it was like to grow up in poverty, so during her time as First Lady, she started the Eva Perón Foundation to help the poor and the homeless. Her foundation was building homes and hospitals, and she was often meeting with the sick and the poor who needed her support.

At the time of their meeting, Juan was the Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare, and aspired to become the President. Marrying in 1945, the two worked together to campaign for Juan’s presidency and was immensely popular with the working class because of their focus on workers’ rights and welfare. Many elite figures were reportedly threatened by this, and consequently sanctioned Juan’s arrest before the election. However, after hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Government house demanding his release, he was soon freed, allowing him to gain victory in the Presidential Election of 1946.

Eva helped her countrywomen achieve suffrage and become involved in Argentine political life. More than 40 years later, her fame lives on. Her influence as a political leader – albeit a non-elected one – surely laid the foundation for greater participation of women in politics.

Rosa Parks

You would be hard pressed to find a leader more courageous than African American civil rights activist Rosa Parks. She was a seamstress who lived in Montgomery, Alabama before she gained global recognition as “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”

In December 1955, she demonstrated an extraordinary act of courage by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was arrested for civil disobedience, but her action led to the Montgomery bus boycott.

The bus incident led to the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by the young pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The association called for a boycott of the city-owned bus company. The boycott lasted 381 days and brought Mrs. Parks, Dr. King, and their cause to the attention of the world. A Supreme Court decision struck down the Montgomery ordinance under which Mrs. Parks had been fined, and outlawed racial segregation on public transportation.

Rosa Parks’ lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere.

Mahatma Gandhi

 When the name Mahatma Gandhi is mentioned, one of the first words to come to mind is ‘compassion’. Many consider Gandhi as one of the most ethical and compassionate leaders the earth has seen. He was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, and came from a middle-class family. He married Kasturbai and went to London to train as a lawyer. A legal case took him to South Africa, then the land of Apartheid, where non-whites, including Indians, were discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens.

After several productive years in South Africa, he returned to India to take part in the movement for independence from British rule, which was finally achieved on August 15, 1947. On January 30, 1948, he was assassinated by a rightwing Hindu fanatic, who felt Gandhi was being too pro-Pakistan.

Gandhi is well-known for his quote ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world’, one which indicates his intentions to change the world, but to do it in a compassionate manner. He was a leader who had the ability to step into the shoes of others allowing him to gain an understanding of issues from different perspectives.

A key moment came when he sat with a valid first-class ticket in a train but was bodily thrown out on to the platform by two white South Africans who could not tolerate the presence of a “coolie” in their compartment. Gandhi spent the whole night on the platform, in mortified contemplation, determined to change the status of Indians.

His main opponent in South Africa was General Jan Christian Smuts, the prime minster of the country. Smuts was responsible for Gandhi spending long spells in South African jails, but he bore no hatred or ill will towards Gandhi. On the other hand, he clearly admired the Indian’s great qualities.

During one of his spells in prison, Gandhi fashioned a pair of sandals, which he sent to Smuts. When Gandhi was finally returning to India, in the cabin of his ship he found a small parcel, with a note from the South African prime minister. The parcel contained the same sandals made by Gandhi and the note read: “I have worn these sandals for many a summer. even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man. It was my fate to be the antagonist of a man for whom even then I had the highest respect.”

That anecdote illustrates one of the many wonderful qualities of the Mahatma: His unique ability to win over even his most doughty opponents (the sandals have an honoured place in a museum in Johannesburg). Though he was spiritually inclined, Gandhi was also entirely practical.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born on the 18th July 1918 in the village of Mvezo, which is located in an area of South Africa called Transkei. His father, Henry, was chief of a tribe in South Africa called the Tembu, and his great grandfather was the tribe’s king.

Nelson studied hard at school and later attended the University of Fort Hare, the South African Native College. He then moved to the city of Johannesburg to study law at the University of the Witwatersrand, before qualifying as a lawyer in 1942, aged 24.

Nelson Mandela felt that everyone deserved to be treated the same, regardless of their skin colour and he was committed to this cause. So, in 1944, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) – a political group that strived for equal rights for whites and blacks.

In 1948 the South African government introduced a system called ‘apartheid’, which furthered the country’s racial divide even more. Under new racist laws, black people and white people were forced to lead separate lives. They weren’t allowed to live in the same areas, share a table in a restaurant, attend the same schools or even sit together on a train or bus!

Nelson Mandela became an important figure in the ANC, and he helped set up and lead a section for young people called the ANC Youth League. He later travelled the country to gain support for non-violent protests against the National Party’s racist laws, too.

This activism made him very unpopular with the authorities, and Nelson was arrested for treason – the crime of betraying your country’s government – several times.

While Nelson was under arrest in the late 1950s, the government banned anti-apartheid groups such as the ANC. Nelson knew he would be in big trouble if the authorities found out about the secret army and their plans, and so he kept a very low profile. He lived in hiding – and even dressed in disguise! But in August 1962, he was arrested on his return from a trip to Algeria in Northern Africa, and sentenced to five years in prison.

In 1963, the police raided a farm near the city of Johannesburg and found documents belonging to the secret army, as well as weapons. The result? Nelson and seven other men were charged for plotting to overthrow the government and given life sentences. Nelson would spend the next 27 years behind bars until his release.

In the 1994 general election, all races in South Africa were allowed to vote. Nelson’s hard work finally paid off – the ANC won, and Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.

As President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela improved the living standards and facilities of South Africa’s black population, who had suffered for decades under apartheid. He also worked hard to make South Africa a country of equality, where people of all race and colour could live together in peace.

In 1999, Nelson Mandela retired as President and his successor was called Mbeki. But whilst he left politics behind, he continued to be an important figure around the world as a symbol of peace and equality. The same year that he retired, he founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation, an organisation that works to this day to promote the principals of equality, freedom and peace.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to serve in Britain’s highest political office and was nicknamed The Iron Lady due to her uncompromising politics, leadership style and her composure.

She was born in Grantham, England on October 13, 1925. Her father was a local businessman and store owner. She had an older sister, Muriel, and the family lived above her father’s grocery store. Margaret learned early on about politics from her father Alfred who served as both alderman and Mayor of Grantham. Margaret attended Oxford University where she graduated with a degree in Chemistry.

Thatcher served three consecutive terms in office. Her economic and social policies evolved into a political philosophy known as Thatcherism, like Reaganomics in the United States, and part of a world-wide neoliberal movement in the 1980s.

“Britain Awake” (also known as the Iron Lady speech) was a speech made by Margaret Thatcher in London, on 19 January 1976. The speech was strongly anti-Soviet, with Thatcher stating that the Soviet Union was “bent on world domination” and taking advantage of detente to make gains in the Angolan Civil War. She questioned the British Labour government’s defence cuts and the state of the NATO defences in parts of Europe. Thatcher stated that a Conservative government would align its foreign policy with the United States and increase defence spending. Thatcher urged the British public to wake from “a long sleep” and make a choice that “will determine the life or death of our kind of society”. She was dubbed the Iron Lady by a Soviet newspaper following this speech – a nickname that she proudly claimed.

Thatcher’s third term in office was marked by reforms to the education system, National Health Service, and the local government tax system or poll tax, as it became known. At the same time, the end of the Cold War revived the project for a single European currency and long-standing divisions in the Conservative Party over this issue gave rise to a challenge to Thatcher’s leadership. In the ballot that followed, she won but by an insufficient margin and resigned as Prime Minister on November 28, 1990, choosing John Major as her successor.

Margaret Thatcher is also remembered for her composure during her emotional farewell to Downing Street in 1990.

Albert Einstein

Perhaps the most famous scientist of the 20th century. German-born physicist Albert Einstein had a profound impact on our understanding of the universe, including basic concepts such as time, light and gravity. To this day, his work is being used to guide physicists to new frontiers, helping us to understand our significance on the grandest scale.

By age 26, Einstein had obtained his PhD. The same year he published 4 important papers on topics ranging from the nature of light to mass-energy equivalence. While largely ignored at first, these papers would eventually make a tremendous contribution to the scientific community, including the famous E= MC2 equation for mass energy equivalence.

These papers also contained the seeds of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, one of the most revolutionary ideas in history. He had a vivid imagination, questioned everything and found new ways of thinking about old problems. He also had an unrelenting work ethic that pushed him to action even on the day of his death, where he was reportedly working on a speech for a television program.

The final picture of Einstein’s office taken hours before his passing showed a man who was deeply consumed in his work right up until the very end. More than 60 years after his death, the world remembers not a man who spent years working at a patent office, but a man who changed the world.

Princess Diana

Diana Frances Spencer was born in 1961, in Sandringham, England. Daughter of John Spencer, Viscount Althorp and Frances Shand Kydd, Diana belonged to a family of British nobility. In 1975, her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer, and from that moment she was known as Lady Diana Spencer.

First home-schooled under her governess, Gertrude Allen, Diana began her formal education in England and also attended finishing school in Switzerland. She went on to become a preschool assistant and nursery teacher’s assistant up until her marriage to Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales, in 1981.

Following an array of royal and public duties grew Diana’s personal mission to bring the monarchy into closer contact with its people, and thus Princess Diana’s work for charitable causes has become her greatest legacy, forever commemorating her as “the people’s princess”.

Diana made history in April 1987 when she was photographed shaking an HIV patient’s hand without wearing gloves. The photo helped spread the message of HIV awareness and educate the public’s perception of the illness. That day, the Princess opened the UK’s first HIV/Aids unit at London Middlesex Hospital that specifically treated patients infected with the virus.

Diana Princess of Wales was the patron and president to multiple charities throughout her life, in which many of the organisations focused on AIDS awareness and prevention, banning the use of landmines, battling poverty and homelessness, various cancer trusts, Leprosy, as well as opening up the stigma surrounding mental illness.

By Sonia McDonald – CEO of LeadershipHQ And McDonald Inc. Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO And Award Winning Author.

Sonia McDonald is changing the face of leadership across the globe. She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, and is known for her mantra ‘Just Lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her transformational coaching, leadership training programs and cultural transformation for organisations and encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped thousands of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

Sonia is a founder and CEO of McDonald Inc., LeadershipHQ and Global Outstanding Leadership Awards and Conference. For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of leadership and she is beyond committed to her mission around building a world of great leaders.

She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader. She has been recognised by Richtopia as One of the Top 250 Influential Women across the Globe and Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs. She is also rated as one of the Australia’s motivational keynote speakers.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is a leading coach, an award-winning published author of newly released First Comes Courage, Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and has become an in-demand motivational keynote speaker on leadership, kindness and courage.

Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, kindness, empathy and courage as well as building outstanding leadership across the Globe.