Explore thought leadership insights on leadership lessons, legacy, and the art of serving from this comprehensive article by Professor M.S. Rao.
Thought Leadership

Navigating the Path of Leadership: Lessons from Inspiring Figures

“Leadership flows from inner character and integrity of ambition, which inspires others to lend themselves to your organization’s mission.” aptly articulated by Frances Hesselbein. Hesselbein’s transformative journey from a volunteer troop leader to a 13-year tenure as CEO encapsulates the essence of leadership as a state of being rather than a mere action. She firmly believed in giving back and was bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 for her instrumental work with the Girl Scouts of the USA. Her admiration for Abraham Lincoln’s principles resonates profoundly. 


Drawing parallels in the world of leadership, Marshall Goldsmith emerges as a compelling figure. Notably recognized as the father of Executive Coaching, Goldsmith’s altruistic disposition shines through his selfless sharing of knowledge through an expansive library accessible to all. His endorsement of international authors, including myself, highlights his humility and commitment to fostering growth in others. 


The leadership prowess of Alan Mulally, renowned for steering Boeing and Ford Motor Company to success, demonstrates his effective leadership. His ability to rescue Ford from impending turmoil and ascend to the ranks of global leadership acclaim is highlighted by his ranking as the third-greatest leader in the world by Fortune magazine upon retirement in 2014. The central message resonating from these three leaders is unequivocal—to serve is to live truly.


Marshall Goldsmith shares seven key trends that have emerged and will dramatically impact the leader of the future—from thinking locally to thinking globally; from requiring uniformity to seeking diversity; from understanding one technology to becoming technologically savvy; from the leader as knower to the leader as a learner; from eliminating challenge to encouraging constructive dialogue; from leading in the hierarchy to building alliances and team; and from the leader as boss to the leader as facilitator. He advises us to use a daily routine of “active questions” that measure our effort, not our results. For example, if you’re facing a challenging relationship problem with your friend, don’t blame your friend, your social circumstances, or your bad luck. Instead, he recommends asking yourself daily (daily!) what you have personally done to address the issue. Self-efficacy is borne from personal responsibility.


Leaders should be both long-and short-term, top-down and bottom-up, directive and engaging, relishing the past and creating the future, global and local, able to zoom out and zoom in, and so forth. Leaders who constantly unlearn end up learning. Surround yourself with people who see things differently. Insecure leaders often surround themselves with people who think like them but may not be quite as good as them. By doing so, they boost their own self-image by knowing more than others and receiving approval for their insights. Effective leaders, on the other hand, spend time with people who are different and who offer new and challenging ideas.


Frances Hesselbein was a generous leader. She was a great listener and storyteller. She respected all people.


Here are 15 leadership takeaways:

  1. Leaders of the future must invest in building a mission-focused, values-based, and demographics-driven organization, reflecting the many faces and cultures of their countries.
  2. Leaders who cut off the flow of constructive dialogue run the risk of becoming obsolete in a very short period.
  3. Great leaders will create an environment for learning where each member of the organization can work—and make their love visible—in a world that respects them for their unique contributions.
  4. Studies show that people in positions of authority in organizations are three times more likely to interrupt coworkers and raise their voices.
  5. Our careers, our companies, our relationships, and indeed our very lives succeed or fail, gradually and then suddenly, one conversation at a time.
  6. Our primal brains are hardwired by fight-or-flight urges, which means that we’re easily seduced by anything that feels remotely urgent rather than those less-exciting things that have longer-term strategic impact.
  7. Leaders find love in their work and life when they find the courage to turn their wounds into wisdom and their passions into purpose.
  8. We are wired for storytelling. Facts largely activate the language areas of our brains, but stories activate and engage our brains holistically. We are relational beings, and stories enable us to identify with the experiences of others and connect them to our own. When we change our stories, we change our choices. And when we change our choices, we can change our minds.
  9. A professor’s job was probably more compatible with motherhood than a corporate executive’s would be.
  10. The hardest experiences are the ones that teach us the most. When you can see the world as a giant classroom, you begin to understand that all experiences are here to teach you something about yourself. If you stay open to those experiences, no matter how tough, you grow.
  11. Life seeks order, but it uses messes to get there.
  12. Never stop exploring. Be hungry for new experiences. Force yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Do things you have never done before.
  13. Culture will emerge through constant care and nurturing.
  14. Humanity is a big network of people working together; there is no disconnect caused by poor communication.
  15. Optimism is not something that you’re born with. It is learned over time. Gratitude—being thankful for what you have—breeds optimism.


We all want a meaningful life: to work together for a brighter future, celebrate our differences and commit to good. We want to inspire others, nurture their talents, and help them grow. We want to look back one day on a life well-lived and leave something behind that matters to the world. 


Leaders who keep their people before profit are the ones who become great leaders globally.  Hence, we must learn lessons from great leaders, and have a heart to serve others without expecting anything in return. It gives us great satisfaction when people grow because of our contribution. Whether we are recognized by them or not is immaterial. We must leave our leadership legacy. Let us proclaim our resolute dedication as givers. As our stories are etched onto history’s canvas, let them reverberate with the symphony of purposeful leadership.



About the Author: 

Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty-two years of experience and the author of fifty-two books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: https://www.amazon.com/See-Light-You-Spiritual-Mindfulness/dp/1949003132. He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications.