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7 of the Most Inspiring Leadership Stories

Roffey Park 1st February 2018

Inspiring Leadership Stories

Inspiring leadership comes not just from decision making and strategy, it comes from risk taking, going against the grain, often when you’re driven by a higher cause, a deep care for others or a complete conviction that you’re acting for the greater good.

Here we weigh up some of the successes of our predecessors by exploring the true nature of the individuals concerned. Will you use the inspirational examples of others to forge your own path or will you do it your way?

Some of the most captivating leadership stories are rooted in a true compassion and often in the face of adversity. Let’s look at some of the most inspiring leaders – from working-class heroes to the social elite – to see what impact they’ve had on the world.

Leadership through compassion – Princess Diana shaking the hands of an AIDS patient

In the 1980s, AIDS arrived on the world stage. It was a new, frightening disease with no cure and was rampaging through communities and countries. People believed that you could catch AIDS from touching someone who had it, or even sitting on the same toilet seat. Sufferers were shunned, and up to 50% of people polled in the US believed that those with AIDS should be quarantined.

On the 19th April, 1987, Princess Diana, one of the most famous people in the world, opened the first unit in the UK dedicated to treating people with HIV and AIDS. During her visit, she shook the hands of a patient without wearing gloves, and changed people’s perceptions of the disease forever.

Leadership through level headedness – Chesley Sullenberger landing a plane on the Hudson River

On the 15th January 2009, US airways flight 1549 lost power to both engines shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport after striking a large flock of Geese. The captain, Chesley Sullenberger, realising they would not make it back to an airport, landed the plane on the Hudson river and saved the lives of the 155 passengers and crew. He remained calm at all times, despite describing it as ‘the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling’ he had ever experienced, and was the last to leave the plane after ensuring no-one was left aboard.

Leadership through survival – Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for female education

An image of Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai

Malala grew up in northwest Pakistan, where the Taliban had often banned girls from attending school. She became a vocal supporter of female education when a Taliban gunman shot her three times in the head in an assassination attempt.

She survived, and the attack provoked worldwide outrage, and in Pakistan, it led to ratification of the Right to Education Bill. Since her recovery, Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, addressed the UN, met world leaders, and founded the non-profit Malala Fund.

Leadership through inspiration – Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech

Martin Luther King was the most prominent leader in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s until his assassination in 1968. He modelled his strategy of civil disobedience and non-violence on the successes of Mahatma Gandhi and received the Nobel Peace Prize.

On October 14th 1964, he made a speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that continues to inspire people to this day.

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!’

Martin Luther King

Leadership through politics – Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was a politician, first lady, diplomat, journalist and activist. She served as the United States Delegate to the UN for seven years, was head of the UN human rights commission and helped write the 1948 UN declaration of human rights. She redefined the role of the first lady and led by example, advocating civil rights for African and Asian Americans, the rights of World War 2 refugees and for a greater role for women in the workplace and society.

Before her death, Eleanor Roosevelt was described as ‘one of the most esteemed women in the world’ and her work and legacy still forms cornerstones of our society today.

Leadership through camaraderie – Luis Urzúa, foreman of 33 men trapped in a Chilean mine for 70 days

In 2010, a collapse at the San Jose copper-gold mine in northern Chili trapped 33 men 700 metres underground. Foreman Luis Urzúa immediately recognised the seriousness of the accident and took charge, organising the men for a long-term survival situation and helping them cope mentally with the situation. He made detailed maps of the area to help with the rescue effort and co-ordinated closely with engineers on the surface.

He was the last man to be rescued and remained cool and calm under the pressure, merely remarking ‘It’s been a bit of a long shift’…

Leadership through taking a stance – Rosa Parks

On the 1st December, 1955, in segregated Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the ‘colored section’ of a bus to a white passenger when ordered to do so by the driver. Her ‘non’ action had her arrested, she lost her job and received death threats for many years. However, her action became a powerful symbol of the modern civil rights movement and Rosa became an international icon. She went on to organise and collaborate with civil rights leaders, wrote an autobiography, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. The United States Congress called her ‘the first lady of human rights’

7 Of The Most Inspiring Leadership Stories – Roffey Park Institute | We develop people who develop organisations

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Roffey Park Institute is an international, research led learning and development organisation. Combining research, qualifications based workplace learning and development programmes, we focus on personal, interpersonal and organisational learning in leadership, management, human resource development, and organisational development.

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