What Can We Learn From Famous Leaders?

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

– John Quincy Adams

If there’s one thing that the past year has brought into focus it is leadership. The bad, the good and the exceptional. When we examine our leaders, and not just the obvious ones. Johnson, Biden, Trump, Angela Merkel, Michelle Obama, Branson, The Beatles, Bowie! We can learn more about and better define leadership. There are different strands of leadership. Some can be learnt. Whilst others you won’t find in any textbook. But with leadership all around us, and in all walks of life, it does beg the question.  What can we learn from famous leaders?

Personally, I think my leadership skills peeped through when, aged four, my school report read… “Elizabeth would be more productive if she wasn’t so bossy.” Years on, my leadership style has changed slightly. Although my team may say I’m still bossy.  Alongside that I hope they feel the nurturing and loyalty that I feel comes with great leadership. Leadership is lifting the persons vision to high sights. The raising of the person’s performance to a higher standard. The building of a personality beyond its limitations.

In business, it has always been my viewpoint that you should lead, not manage.  And there are some learnings we can all take from international leaders who have recently been in the spotlight. Here are my thoughts on just a few.


My philosophy is to approach my business as a leader rather than a manager. A manager will oversee and get the job done; a leader will inspire people to follow their vision.

My aim in my own businesses is not to ensure the daily tasks are done but to give people the freedom to manage their own workload. My team knows what I want and never fails to deliver, because we are all working for the greater good.

A good leader for me has trust in their followers and will focus on the big picture rather than the day to day. Calculated risk takers, creative, empathetic, charismatic, agents for change, visionaries, committed.  All fantastic leadership qualities.

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There have been many debates over the classification of leadership styles.  When we ask ourselves, “What Can We Learn From Famous Leaders?”, we need to recognise their individual leadership styles. Personally, I like the simplicity of the three defined by Polly McKenzie in a recent article for the Evening Standard. In it she writes that there are Warriors, Designers and Monarchs:

“Warriors lead from the front. They dive in and do; they fix problems; they lead by serving alongside and showing what can be done. Start-ups are full of warrior leaders, charging around doing everyone’s job for them. Designers are all about systems. They frame and establish processes to solve problems. Characterised by expertise, patience, and a details mindset, they’re better adapted to large organisations than warriors. And finally, monarchs. Monarchs stand above it all. They appoint, they adjudicate, and they inspire, but you sometimes wonder what they do all day, until you realise it doesn’t matter. Their leadership works.”

Here are my thoughts on just a few of the leaders that have recently been in the media, which will hopefully go some way to establishing the answer to this debate: what can we learn from famous leaders?


As England united behind the team on the pitch and reached an international final for the first time in half a century, we learnt more and more about Gareth Southgate leadership style.

What impressed me most about Gareth was his utter dedication to his team and his 100% commitment to any decisions he made. No matter what the media, pundits and general public’s opinion he always stuck to his guns and was ready to not only defend his decision but take responsibility for that decision, no matter what the outcome.

Gareth does appear to have the full backing of the entire team and he also is willing to absorb any flack that comes their way. When the three brave young men who stepped up to take a penalty were subject to racist abuse, he was there the very next day. Condemning the onslaught, showing his solidarity with his players and showcasing a very British leadership style – gentle, humility, yet underneath a steely resolution. He is the personification of the English gentlemen, strong, kind and fair, yet cross the line and you will regret it. Some leaders yell, others show their disappointment and it’s arguably the latter that would get better results.

So, “What Can We Learn From Famous Leaders?” In this case, the top learnings from Gareth Southgate – there is no place for ego in a good leader. Stick to your decisions and admit when you got it wrong and you will command the respect of others. Sometimes he is a little risk-averse for me but overall, he is inspirational, he leads from the front and has a clear vision and purpose.


Boris did of course break down the red wall thanks to his Brexit strategy, and he defeated labour in a landslide result. People often underestimate him, yet he knows his strengths. He plays on his oafish character and we often forget that underneath is a very, very clever man indeed.

Boris’s premiership has been very different to the one I’m sure he imagined. His aim was to march Britain out of Europe and, to coin a phrase, ‘make Britain Great again.’ But coronavirus stopped all that.

In guiding the country through unprecedented times, he has met many challenges and I don’t think it has all been bad. You can see Churchillian influences are very evident in some of his early lockdown speeches. He demonstrated a resolute, stiff upper lip and dedication when he caught coronavirus. He was forced to delegate and make decisions from his hospital bed. You can’t ask for more commitment than that.

Boris is able to delegate well, but sometimes by passing over the responsibility, he also passes over the blame if things do go wrong. As a leader, he emerges unscathed but it’s not an endearing quality.

Boris quite purposefully plays the role of the buffoon, and in thinking him foolish very often we underestimate the canny mind behind his jester like leadership front.

As a leader Boris has come under fire for indecisiveness and making decisions too late, but have no doubt, each decision, each communication will have had a team of analysts behind it. He is a good leader in that he generally gets the majority to do what he wants, even if that’s not what he asks us to do. Smoke and mirrors.

Let’s also not forget that Britain’s vaccine roll out has been world beating, and it was decisiveness early on, when vaccines were not even developed that has put us in this strong position.

One of the biggest criticisms leveraged at Boris was that he did not deal with aide Dominic Cummings in a decisive enough manner. A decision that really came back to haunt him months later. But as a leader you also need to constantly be learning and improving. A take away for us all.

Whatever your political standpoint or view of how he has dealt with coronavirus Boris has one leadership quality that shines through. He has charisma. That’s a quality that can never be taught, or described in management textbooks.

Where charismatic leaders go, others will always follow, for better or worse.


After the anarchic scenes that marked the end of the Trump era, all has been fairly quiet across the pond. Where Boris is all bluster, buffoonery and likeability, Southgate calm, collected and resolute. Joe Biden is quiet, empathetic, and for some, unremarkable. But perhaps that’s just what America needed for a little while. A little time out of the spotlight and away from the chaos. A safer pair of hands to steady the ship.

It was Trump who gave Biden the nickname ‘Sleepy Joe’ in a bid to undermine his leadership authority. Yet there is no steadfast rule that says a leader must be high octane and full of energy. Biden is in his twilight years, and experience can be just as important as youthful exuberance – especially in a leader. More so, I believe, you can read my thoughts on age versus experience here: Everyday Ageism – Why We All Need To Take A Good Look In The Mirror – Liz Taylor Consultancy (liz-taylor-consulting.co.uk)

Biden’s progressive thinking outweigh his advancing years, arguably one of Biden’s master strokes was to appoint Kamala Harris as Vice President. It’s clear America wasn’t ready for a female president, but it just might be that through selfless leadership, Joe Biden could help this milestone become reality.


I was already impressed with Jacinda Ardern before the coronavirus outbreak. New Zealand’s youngest prime minister, and female, she has demonstrated swift, decisive leadership and it has paid off. By locking down the country quickly, New Zealand has had some of the lowest coronavirus infection and transmission rates of anywhere in the world.

Not only that but her communication around the reasoning behind those decisions has been second to none. When a leader is open, honest and can defend their decision making it helps the masses to follow. She has also shown her solidarity with those struggling financially but taking the same pay cut as them.

Jacinda has led with kindness and selflessness, she also has a very young family and is not afraid to show that she is a mother as well as a leader. She became the first head of government to give birth in office since Benazir Bhutto (the former prime minister of Pakistan) and has often been seen at meetings with her young daughter in tow. She event took her to the United Nations conference which is both refreshing and inspiring for female leaders everywhere. Not only this, but despite being leader of the country, she took her maternity leave – demonstrating that family values are more important than anything to her.

Looking at what we can learn from this and other famous leaders, Ardern is an authentic leader. She’s an excellent decision maker and is relatable to most of her followers.


When asking what can we learn from famous leaders, this young lady might not jump instantly to mind. But should. Greta Thunberg was just fifteen when she made the world sit up and listen on climate change. And she did it just by sitting.

A truly inspirational leader is able to inspire others to take action. Some do it by rousing speeches and high energy, others do it more quietly, but no less effectively, simply by standing true to what they believe is right.

Greta has an unwavering commitment to a cause. Her stance on climate change is so engrained in her personality that it’s very hard to ignore. Greta has elements of the charismatic leader but she is utterly fearless. She stood up to ‘bullying’ from some of the more unscrupulous world leaders in a way that was utterly astounding given her years and background.

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Lastly, no matter if you are a royalist, it’s hard to meet somebody that does not have the utmost respect for The Queen. Tiny in stature, but an unwavering presence.  She has been a constant at the head of the country for 69 years. She was just 26 when she took the throne and she accepted her responsibility with dutiful humility. She doesn’t say a lot but what she does say has real gravitas. The Queen also knows how to make a statement without saying a word.

She has broken down barriers during her rule.  And where tradition is a huge part of her role, she can see the need for modernisation and embraces it.

She has not been afraid to let the younger members of the royal family step into the limelight and this has hugely popularised the monarchy once more. Only in recent months has there been some unrest but even through tough family times she has remained steadfast and true to her values.

The Queen’s overriding leadership style is quiet dignity, and it is one that wins her the utmost respect from other leaders around the world. She presides over the country through ups and down. A true monarch in every sense of the word.


When people understand the why it’s much easier to inspire them to follow.  This book is a must read for any would-be leader. READ



Understanding your personality type will undoubtedly help you to work out what type of leader you are. Try one for free at the link below.


Thanks for sharing my thought on what we can all learn from famous leaders.