The Top Ten Most Inspirational Leaders Who Led With Courage
Real leaders lead with courage and kindness.
As we celebrate coming into the year 2022, here are some of the most inspirational leaders past and present. This year, I hope we can all take a leaf out of their books and lead by example just as they did or are doing. Remember, it is possible to become a great leader and achieve great things.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) was an American author, lecturer, disability rights activist and a true leader. At the tender age of 19 months, she contracted a virulent disease which caused her to lose her sight and hearing. By age seven she had invented over sixty different hand signals that she could use to communicate with her family.
Inspired by Charles Dickens’ American Notes of the successful education of another deaf/blind child, Helen’s mother Kate Keller traveled to a specialist doctor in Baltimore for advice in 1886 who connected her with local expert Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in Boston, Massachusetts.
The school delegated teacher and former student, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired and then only 20 years old, to become Helen’s teacher. Helen Keller’s speech handicap did not stop her as she went on to become a world-famous “speaker” and author. On her speaking tours, she traveled with Anne Sullivan Macy who introduced Helen Keller and interpreted her remarks to the audience.
Keller is remembered as an advocate for the disabled, as well as numerous causes. In 1915, she founded Helen Keller International, a non-profit organisation for preventing blindness and she “spoke” at fundraising activities throughout the country. She changed the world’s perception of people living with disabilities and devoted her life to helping others, playing a leading role in most of the social, cultural and political movements of the twentieth century.
In 1960, her book Light in my Darkness was published and she also wrote a lengthy autobiography called The Story of My Life published in 1903. This was the most popular of her works and is now available in more than 50 languages.
“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…we must do that which we think we cannot.”
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962) was an activist, diplomat, an American political figure and the niece of Theodore Roosevelt. She served as the first lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, during her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four terms in office, which made her the longest-serving first lady of the United States.
She also served as United States Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945 to 1952. She was the first presidential spouse to hold regular press conferences, write a daily newspaper column, write a monthly magazine column, host a weekly radio show, and speak at a national party convention.
Following her husband’s death in 1945, Roosevelt remained active in politics for the remaining 17 years of her life.
“I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls.”
Born on July 12, 1997, in Mingora, the largest city in the Swat Valley in what is now the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan, Malala developed a thirst for knowledge at a very young age.
Determined to go to school and with a firm belief in her right to an education, Malala used her voice to advocate to give Pakistani girls access to a free quality education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.
On the morning of October 9, 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban. Malala was seriously wounded. That same day, she was airlifted to a Pakistani military hospital in Peshawar and four days later to an intensive care unit in Birmingham, England.
After the shooting, her incredible recovery and return to school resulted in a global outpouring of support for Malala. On July 12, 2013, her 16th birthday, Malala visited New York and spoke at the United Nations. Later that year, she published her first book, an autobiography entitled “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
In 2014, through the Malala Fund, the organization she co-founded with her father, Malala traveled to Jordan to meet Syrian refugees, to Kenya to meet young female students. In October 2014, Malala, along with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, was named a Nobel Peace Prize winner. At age 17, she became the youngest person to receive this prize.
Today, the Malala Fund has become an organization that, through education, empowers girls to achieve their potential and become confident and strong leaders in their own countries. Funding education projects in six countries and working with international leaders. Malala is an active proponent of education as a fundamental social and economic right. Through the Malala Fund and with her own voice, Malala Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education and for girls to become agents of change in their communities.
Queen Elizabeth II
“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
Queen Elizabeth II was born in Mayfair, London, as the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). Today, she is the longest-reigning monarch of all time and has seen 13 Prime Ministers come and go since her 1952 coronation.
Known for her sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service, she has been an important figurehead for the UK and the Commonwealth during times of enormous social change. She has become a much loved and respected figure across the globe.
The Queen has links – as Royal Patron or President – with over 600 charities, military associations, professional bodies and public service organisations. Her patronages and charities cover a wide range of issues, from opportunities for young people, to the preservation of wildlife and the environment.
“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.”
Melinda Gates has become one of the most powerful women in the world, due to her efforts to support areas of society in desperate need of help or remodelling. She is a businesswoman, philanthropist and global advocate for women and girls.
Through her work at the foundation over more than two decades as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda has seen firsthand that empowering women and girls can bring about transformational improvements in the health and prosperity of families, communities, and societies.
Her work has led her to increasingly focus on gender equity as a path to meaningful change. Together with Bill Gates, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for their extraordinary efforts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 –1886) was one of the greatest writers, philosophers, leaders, lecturers, and poets in American history. Emerson attended Harvard College and his original profession and calling was as a Unitarian minister, but he left the ministry to pursue a career in writing and public speaking.
He achieved worldwide fame as a lecturer, giving over 1,500 public lecturers and wrote dozens of essays on freedom, individuality and the ability of people to accomplish anything.
He was the author of such essays as “Self-Reliance,” “History,” “The Over-Soul,” and “Fate.” Drawing on English.
Even today, Emerson continues to influence thinkers and writers around the world.
“Courage is not the absence of fear. It is going forward with the face of fear.”
Known as the best leader in American history, Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) an American lawyer and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States. He co-owned a general store for several years before selling his stake and enlisting as a militia captain defending Illinois in the Black Hawk War of 1832.
After the war, he studied law and campaigned for a seat on the Illinois State Legislature. Although not elected in his first attempt, Lincoln persevered and won the position in 1834, serving as a Whig.
Lincoln focused on his all-embracing law practice in the early 1850s after one term in Congress from 1847 to 1849. He joined the new Republican party in 1856. On November 6, 1860, Lincoln won the presidential election. Lincoln served as President from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.
Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation which led to abolishing slavery in the US, led the union to victory in the American Civil War, lay the stepping stone for reconstruction and he signed the Morrill land-grant act which led to creation of numerous universities.
He signed the first of the homestead acts, allowing poor people to obtain land and he established the United States department of agriculture.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
Albert Eistein (1879 – 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time. Einstein is best known for developing the theory of relativity, but he also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics.
Einstein published four remarkable papers in the year 1905 that transformed the way the concepts of space, time, mass, and energy was understood. These papers were on the topics of ‘Special Theory of Relativity’, ‘Understanding of the Equivalence of Mass and Energy’, ‘Theory of Brownian Motion’, and ‘Photoelectric Phenomenon’.
In 1921, Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his photoelectric law and work in the ‘domain of theoretical physics’.
Einstein’s scientific theories accelerated the development of the world like never before and he gave scientists the tools to mold almost every observable aspect of life as we live today. From nuclear energy production to synchronization of GPS satellites to computers to many everyday consumer products; all can be traced or linked to Einstein’s work.
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) was the 26th president of the United States, holding the position from1901 to 1909. He was a politician, historian, statesman, conservationist, naturalist, and writer, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
He is famous for his domestic program Square Deal which had three basic ideas known as the “three C’s”: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
Roosevelt was also praised for averting a national emergency by dealing with the 1902 Coal Strike, internationally he was instrumental in ending the Russo-Japanese War which brought him the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American to be awarded this honour, and in facilitating the construction of the Panama Canal.
Roosevelt also made conservation a national issue and strengthened the United States Navy.
“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.”
Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader and philanthropist who served as the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. Mandela was instrumental in the formation of the ANC Youth League, established the first black law firm in South Africa and brought an end to white minority rule in South Africa. He also came out with a host of reforms to support democracy in South Africa.
He helped secure universal suffrage in South Africa and promoted tolerance and reconciliation. Mandela also established a number of charity organizations that allowed him to continue his work in poverty alleviation and social justice. In 1995, he established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund that created scholarship opportunities for children across South Africa.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for his unflinching dedication to peace and social justice in and outside South Africa. He was joint winner with former President F.W. de Klerk.