America has a long and storied history of great men and women accomplishing great things. While not everyone aspires to the same positions they held, every would-be leader can benefit from looking at what the greats did and emulating the traits that set them apart. Men such as Abraham Lincoln weren’t born into greatness; they shaped themselves into dynamic forces capable of changing the world, and the first step toward accomplishment is to adopt the attitude that anything is possible with work and sacrifice.
- Henry Ford
Mr. Ford raised an entire generation’s standard of living by providing cheap personal transport and paying his workers the equivalent of $120 per day. His great contribution to society and the collective wisdom of the business world was the idea that treating workers well was beneficial to everyone. When his own workers started purchasing automobiles and flooding the economy with the wages they earned through manufacturing jobs, he was proven right.
- George Washington
It’s impossible to talk about great American leaders without mentioning the first president. He was a major stabilizing force during the revolutionary war, and if it wasn’t for his resourcefulness and his resolve the war would have been lost. What’s most telling is how he turned down the title of king. When the people wanted to elect him for a third term, he willingly stepped down from his position and made it law that presidents could only serve two terms. He demonstrated the importance of restraint through the actions he took, and it’s an important lesson that would-be leaders have to learn to be successful in the long-term.
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King demonstrated a wisdom and compassion that far exceeded what anyone could expect from someone who was part of an oppressed group. He didn’t rally for the destruction of white men; he wanted equality for all people of all colors and all creeds. He suffered and eventually died for his beliefs, and through his efforts people of color were able to take their rightful place within American society. He is proof positive that strong convictions and perseverance are enough to transform a hostile world into a more compassionate one.
- John F. Kennedy
JFK was instrumental in bringing an end to racial segregation. His administration ordered law enforcement to crack down on the despicable practice wherever it remained, and because of him people of color could stop worrying about hatred and brutality sparked by the color of their skin. The most remarkable thing that happened under JFK’s watch was the manned mission to the moon; he wasn’t directly responsible for it, but by facilitating it he helped prove that the most permanent impossibilities could be overcome, and this one event sparked the imaginations of innovators across generations.
- Sonia Maria Sotomayor
She was born in the Bronx to an alcoholic father and an emotionally distant mother. She was diagnosed with type one diabetes early in her life, and she didn’t learn English until the age of nine. Despite all of this, she pushed herself and attained a lucrative career in law, and today she’s one of the supreme court justices appointed under Obama. She is a true example of a self-made person, and her life demonstrates the value of pushing onward even when life relentlessly pushes back.