I thought I might take a bit of a difference approach with this post. Normally I give you leadership advice on topics that you encounter in your daily business life. But the truth of the matter is that leadership is a much bigger subject than what we’ve previously considered. We are only viewing things on the small scale when we apply leadership principles to the context of our business lives.
What I thought I might do today is present some tips on how to be a good leader from people who had much more at stake than just hitting first quarter expectations. These were leaders with everything on the line. In many cases, they held the literal lives of many people in their hands.
The reason I want to do this is to show that, if these men and women can adhere to the traits of being a humanistic leader in the face of so much adversity, then it should be no problem for us to do the same. For just a moment, let’s bring some perspective into the relatively tame challenges of our professional lives.
5 Prominent Humanistic Leaders: Their Style and Achievements
Kailash Satyarthi may not have had the beginnings of what we might think of for a great humanitarian leader. He had been educated as an electrical engineer and received a post-graduate degree in that field. He was on a successful career track as a college lecturer.
But something changed with Kailash in 1980. He saw a wrong that needed to be addressed. What changed him so was the practice of child labor that was so prevalent in India.
After giving up his career, he became the secretary general of the Bonded labor Liberation Front. He then went on to champion the reform of child labor laws through several different organizations and efforts.
This was no easy task. Satyarthi threatened huge business interests throughout India and Southeast Asia. He prevailed, though, and due to his efforts he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, among many other such commendations.
I think if I were to sum Satyarthi’s leadership advice, it might go something like this: It’s not enough to see something wrong and say, “ I won’t be a part of that” Instead, a leader sees a wrong and says, “I’m going to change that.”
The Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu was another Nobel Peace Prize winner and humanitarian leader that has had a profound impact on the world.
Tutu was a social rights activist who rose to the world stage in the 1980s, as he led the movement to abolish apartheid in South Africa. And even though Bishop Tutu won that fight and received many prestigious accolades, it did not stop his activism. He went on to lead the campaign to fight the AIDS epidemic that was quite literally destroying the continent, as well as leading many other social causes.
This is another great lesson in leadership. It is not about winning awards; it’s not even about winning the fight. Bishop Tutu could have easily stepped away from his work upon the abolition of apartheid, but he continued on. Leaders are always looking for the next challenge, the next mountain to climb, not back on previous accomplishments.
Diana, Princess of Wales
Most everyone knows Princess Diana’s reputation and involvement in many humanitarian efforts. Some of the more prominent were her charity focused on ridding African countries of undetonated landmines, her work with AIDS victims and numerous humanitarian efforts to help children.
But the thing that always struck me about Diana was the fact that she really didn’t have to do anything. As a Princess, you’re almost expected to live a life of glamour and leisure, and then make token gestures toward charitable causes. And while Diana was certainly glamorous, and definitely a celebrity; her commitment to humanitarian causes was anything but token. She invested vast amounts of time and resources to the real and difficult work of helping people.
What I always take away from her legacy is that when you rise to the highest levels of society and have tremendous resources at your disposal, those things can become trappings. But a true leader simply views them as gifts to help others along the way.
John F. Kennedy
I’ve always been a big fan of this American President. To me, he represented that rare instance of a political leader with true vision.
It was Kennedy who announced that the United States would go to the moon. Why? In his own words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…”
Wow! Could you imagine a politician speaking in those terms today? Frankly, I can’t. It’s too bold, too courageous. It seems like most politicians want to tell you how things are going to be easy … provided you vote for them, of course.
Okay, I’m digressing. Kennedy did a lot of other things that I greatly admired as well. He worked to end the policy of brinksmanship with the Soviet Union, which had the world teetering on the cusp on nuclear war. He also put forth humanitarian initiatives like the Peace Corps, where young Americans went to developing nations to help improve living conditions and build infrastructure.
But when it comes to leadership advice, I keep going back to his “We choose to go to the moon,” speech. Leaders don’t do things because they’re easy; leaders do things because they’re hard.
Going back to South Africa, Nelson Mandela is the last, but certainly not least, humanistic leader I wanted to touch on.
Like Tutu, Mandela stood in opposition to the policy of apartheid in South Africa. It was a struggle that he carried on for over 50 years. Even more moving, he spent 27 of those years as a political prisoner.
In the end, however, Mandela’s perseverance won out. In 1994, he went from former prisoner to President of South Africa. He won the position in South Africa’s first ever multi-racial election. In the process, he became an inspiration around the globe to those opposing officially sanctioned injustice and corruption.
The leadership take-away from Mandela is a pretty simple one. Don’t give up! No matter how dark things may look, don’t ever give up.
Okay, I hope you have enjoyed these vignettes. Even more, I hope you can find ways to turn these humanitarian leadership tips into business leadership tips and let them inspire you to greater heights!