Daring, courageous, and inspiring, good leadership can turn the tide for a nation. There have been many heads of state, leaders, and conquerors that history remembers. However, there are only a handful of famous world leaders in history we still revere, be it for their extreme courage, their vitality, or their determination towards achieving their goals.
Some leaders like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington changed the world for all times to come, whereas some leaders like Genghis Khan, although very powerful, spread terror and tyranny wherever they went. Needless to say, these leaders left the world and their impacts will be felt for all times to come.
To know more about these famous world leaders in history and why they are still revered, continue reading ahead.
Top 40 Famous World Leaders in History
History has seen many famous leaders come and go, but there are only a few that it remembers. Here are the top most famous world leaders in history that you should know about.
1. Cyrus the Great
Persia, 600-560 B.C.E.
Cyrus the Great was popular back then; Cyrus the great is popular still. He was the founder of the first Persian Empire-the greatest Empire that the world has seen so far. He was an inspirational leader that transformed the lives of millions.
He ruled lands that began from the great Balkans to India. Cyrus the Great was revered by people because he was one of the only leaders who respected the religions and cultures of the new lands he conquered.
Also read: How can great leaders bring diverse people around?
Greece, 495-429 B.C.E.
Some leaders became popular for conquering huge lands. Then some leaders became popular because they brought in progressive laws. Pericles was the leader of Athens.
He ushered in a new age of art and cultural transformation where Athens’s arts, culture, and education became popular worldwide. Additionally, Pericles introduced progressive, democratic laws where poor and ordinary citizens were allowed to become part of the government.
Also read: 12 key differences between Inclusive leader vs Exclusive leadership
Babylonia, c. 1810-1750 B.C.E.
Hammurabi, the sixth king of the first Babylonian dynasty, was one of the most famous world leaders in history who had a transformative leadership style. He was responsible for issuing the Code of Hammurabi- a set of new laws in the Babylonian dynasty.
In the times when criminals were treated badly, these laws were comprehensive and ensured that an accused person was considered innocent until a trial did not prove him guilty. This helped make the lives of people much better in ancient times.
Also read: How can great leaders change the world for the better?
4. Alexander the Great
Macedonia, 356-323 B.C.E.
There is not a kid alive today who is unfamiliar with the name: Alexander, the great. Alexander III of Macedon was a great military leader who remained undefeated in the many, many battles he fought. He conquered a lot of lands using diverse military tactics.
His methods proved so popular that they are still widely taught in military academies throughout the world. Additionally, Alexander the Great expanded his empire and was able to create one of the largest empires in history.
5. Qin Shi Huang
China, 259-210 B.C.E.
Leaders of the past were not always inspirational. Some were ruthless tyrants. Yet, the world reveres them for the extraordinary feat they achieved. Qin Shi Huang is still remembered today because he was the first one to unite the diverse Chinese states and bring them under the same banner.
He introduced a common currency and a standard education style that helped create a unified empire. Not just that, but Qin Shi Huang is also responsible for starting the construction of the Great Wall of China.
6. Julius Caesar
Rome, 100-44 B.C.E.
Julius Caesar had many enemies, both within and outside his empire, this was a testament to the fact that he was extremely powerful. He helped transform Rome into a huge and prosperous empire. He brought all of France under his rule; a feat that was achieved by none before him. As the dictator of Rome, Julius Caesar introduced a plethora of new land reforms.
Additionally, he granted citizenship to residents from diverse regions, thus making Rome a mighty empire. Julius Caesar met an untimely demise when members of the elite plotted against him and assassinated him.
Egypt, c. 1507-1458 B.C.E.
When we think of inspirational female leaders, we think of people like Queen Victoria, Jacinda Arden, or other modern female leaders. In reality, even during the early ages, there were leaders like Hatshepsut who changed the world.
Hatshepsut was the second female pharaoh. She was an excellent builder who commissioned hundreds of famous monuments, statues, and buildings. She was also responsible for increasing the dynasty’s wealth and re-establishing some very famous trade routes.
8. Ramses II
Egypt, c.1303-1213 B.C.E.
Having ruled for more than 65 years, Ramses ii did wonder for Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom. He was a great and powerful leader who lived up to 90 years.
He was known as Ramesses the great. He was also the third Pharaoh of Egypt. Not just that, but he was also considered as the best and most celebrated pharaoh of the New Kingdom.
9. Cleopatra VII
Egypt, 69-30 B.C.E.
Cleopatra VII was yet another famous world leader in history who changed the tides. She was the last ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt and bore Julius Caesar a healthy son. After the death of Rome’s emperor, Caesar, Cleopatra aligned with Mark Antony.
Mark Antony tried taking over the Roman empire, but failed and died a tragic death. Cleopatra committed suicide soon after, thus pushing the Roman empire to become a province of Egypt. However, during her lifetime, Cleopatra was a mighty leader and a force to be reckoned with.
Also read: How to become an inspirational female leader?
10. Wu Zetian
China may be a rising superpower today, but it was not always like that. There was a time when corruption and chaos filled the beautiful land of China. Wu Zetian was a female sovereign of China, and she ruled the land for almost 4 decades.
During her long tenure, corruption declined in China, and art and culture flourished. Moreover, her rule was also very prosperous and contributed to making China a rising power in the past.
Carolingian Empire, 747-814
Charlemagne, also known as the ‘Father of Europe, was a great leader and emperor. Under his transformative leadership, western and Central Europe became together and united during the Middle Ages. It was his amazing leadership qualities that the pope was compelled to make him the first Holy Roman Emperor.
He was an illiterate person himself. However, this did not stop him from transforming the rest of society. During his leadership, he established many educational hubs that increased literacy among the kids. He also set up many schools across Europe, thus helping advance Europe during the Middle Ages.
12. Emperor Augustus
Rome, 63 B.C.E. – 14 A.D.
In a time when the world was crippled with wars and unrest, Augustus proved to be a breath of fresh air for many. He became the first Roman Emperor and began Pax Romana- an era of peace that lasted for more than two centuries.
He was also responsible for forming and expanding the Roman Empire. Moreover, he established a variety of roads, trade routes, and a very powerful standing army.
13. Constantine the Great
Roman Empire, 272-337
Constantine the great was a roman emperor. He is credited for building up the great city of Byzantium and then naming it Constantinople. Very few people know that the old Constantinople is now known as Istanbul and is one of the most extraordinary cities in the world.
Additionally, Constantine also spread Christianity and allowed it to flourish within the Roman Emperor.
14. William the Conqueror
England, c. 1028-1087
William, also known as William, the conqueror, invaded England in 1066. This allowed the Normans to gain victory over the British and achieve a lifelong dream. William the conqueror was a ruthless leader and put down a plethora of revolts that arose in Northern England.
Although his tactics worked, they also led to the destruction of much of the countryside. But that is not all, William I also built several castles throughout England. He also conducted a long and massive survey report that is known as the Doomsday Book.
15. Genghis Khan
Mongol Empire, 1162-1227
People of the world are familiar with a lot of stories and tales associated with the Mongol Empire. One name is always synonymous with tyranny and ruthlessness, and that name is Genghis Khan. He was a brutal conqueror whose drive to conquer lands surpassed all other needs. Under his leadership, the nomadic people of Northeast Asia came together and came under a unanimous Mongol Empire.
He also slaughtered entire cities that revolted against him. This led to millions of his enemies dying during battle. Additionally, he led the mass extermination of people who resisted his rule. Although known for his brutality, the nomadic people respected him because of his willingness to share his wealth with the common people.
16. Kublai Khan
Mongol Empire, 1215-1294
Kublai Khan, another great Mongol leader, was the grandson of Genghis Khan and ruled over the empire for decades. He got to lead the empire when the empire was at its largest and was flourishing with new conquests and an abundance of wealth. Kublai Khan’s empire stretched from the great Black Sea to the mighty Pacific Ocean.
It also reached modern-day Afghanistan. Many are unaware that Kublai Khan founded the great Yuan dynasty of China. Additionally, he also built the great palace of Xanadu- a historic place that was visited by Marco Polo on his many, many voyages.
17. Joan of Arc
France, c. 1412-1430
Joan of Arc is included in the books of great historians. She became an inspiration for females at a time when female leaders were rare. Joan of Arc, a French heroine, led an entire army to victory during the Hundred Years’ war between France and England. Her amazing tactics and great military prowess got her victory against the superior British forces. Such was her valor that she threatened the English army, who captured her and accused her of sorcery.
This was mainly because Joan of Arc broke stereotypes and chose to dress as a man. She was just 19 when she was captured and then burned alive at the stake. Although she met an early death, her story lived on and continued to inspire millions around the globe.
Also read: How inspirational female leaders conquered the world?
18. King Henry VIII
King Henry VIII was the first head of the Protestant Church of England and is known for having six wives. He beheaded two of his wives because they were unable to give him a male heir. He then divorced his first wife, which led to the split of the Catholic Church.
He was the head of England for almost four decades and led the reformation. Among his six wives included Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
19. Suleiman the Magnificent
Ottoman Empire, 1494-1566
Suleiman, the emperor of the great Ottoman empire, was given the title of the Magnificent, all thanks to his extreme prowess and leadership skill. He was the longest reigning emperor of the Ottoman empire and dreamt of taking over the entire Europe one day. His ambition led him to lay siege to Vienna. The siege failed and began the long-lasting rivalry between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman empire.
This rivalry lasted centuries and cost millions to the Ottoman empire. Although he failed at his dream, Suleiman was still a very successful leader who was able to expand the empire to the Middle East and North Africa. His was a golden age during which he transformed the legal system of the Ottomans. He was also a stout supporter of Art and culture and spent a lot of money on seeing artwork flourish in the land.
20. Nelson Mandela
South Africa, 1918-2013
Nelson Mandela was a top leader who was respected and revered by everyone. He was a civil rights leader and had the honor of being the first black president of South Africa. Such was his influence that the South African apartheid government decided to imprison him for around 27 years.
After spending such a long time in prison, he came out of it strong and became an inspiration for all times to come. He was released from prison in 1990 and was elected as the first black president.
21. Queen Elizabeth I
There are not many female visionaries and leaders that the world remembers. However, Queen Elizabeth 1 was different. Daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth 1 took over the English throne at a time when England was gripped with politics and turmoil. Before Elizabeth took charge, the country was ruled by Mary, her half-sister, who forcefully converted the country to Catholicism.
When Elizabeth took over, she vowed to make the country protestant. She was known as the virgin queen because she never married and never birthed an heir. Moreover, Elizabeth’s reign lasted a good 44 years, and it was a time of great stability and peace. She was a fairly tolerant and inclusive leader who was loved by her subjects.
22. Catherine the Great
Russian Empire, 1729-1796
Among the most inspirational female leaders is Catherine the great-the emperor of Russia. She was the longest-ruling emperor of Russia and is credited for expanding the Country and transforming it into one of the biggest and greatest European powers of the world. She was also a very tolerant and progressive leader who was both humble and caring.
She not only established a plethora of art and literature centers, but also established many schools. Moreover, she formed a national system that provided free schooling to her subjects. Not just that, Catherine II also made the first school for girls at a time when education for females was frowned upon. On top of that, Catherine is known for having a book collection of around 38000.
23. George Washington
United States, 1732-1799
George Washington is one of those leaders that changed the world for all times to come. The first president of the united states of America, George Washington, led the revolutionary war that saw the colonies become separate countries in the 1700s. He not only inspired others to join his cause, but his military prowess allowed the untrained Americans to fight one of the biggest battles in history against the mighty British.
After the victory, the Americans unanimously voted for George Washington and elected him to be the leader of the newly formed country. Washington is also credited for establishing many new, progressive laws in the land. Although he possessed many black slaves during his lifetime, he freed most of them at the time of his death, thus setting a good precedent for all times to come.
24. Thomas Jefferson
United States, 1743-1826
We can not talk about great leaders that history reveres without mentioning Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. He was not only the third president of the newly formed country, but also the writer of the Declaration of Independence.
He was just 33 when he achieved this extraordinary feat. Moreover, as president, he bought Louisiana and doubled the size of the newly formed country. Although Jefferson was also a slave owner, he treated his slaves with kindness and even fathered multiple children with one of his slaves.
Shawnee, c. 1768-1813
Tecumseh was a very powerful and dynamic Shawnee chief who formed the Native American Confederacy. He actively led a group of people that resisted US expansion into the native lands of America. People revered and followed him because of his excellent public speaking skills.
Apart from being an excellent orator, he also traveled extensively to spread his message and rally people to his cause. He ultimately died in battle after he fought the British in the great war of 1812. He was and is still considered to be a symbol of hope and inspiration for the people of America.
26. Napoleon Bonaparte
We have heard Napoleon’s name in stories, and read about him in books, but how many of us know that Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the best military leaders to have ever graced the Earth? He was an excellent commander of the French forces, who then became the emperor of France.
He led a lot of conquests against the British and took over much of great Continental Europe. Napoleon was an unwavering leader. Even after being captured and exiled by the Russians, he regained control of France and led an army in the famous battle of Waterloo. He ultimately faced defeat, but his unwavering valor and courage still inspire millions of officers and leaders today.
27. José de San Martín
Jose de San Martín was an Argentinian who joined and led many local revolutionary movements. He was a proud general who helped lead Argentinian, Peru, and Chile to independence from Spain.
He led an extremely successful military career in Europe and then later joined his homeland, Argentina, and became a part of the revolution. He fought in many countries and became a national hero in all the countries he fought to free in his lifetime.
28. Simón Bolívar
Simon Bolivar may be a relatively less known leader when compared to other famous world leaders in history, however, his contribution to the world can not be ignored. He was one of the most popular leaders in South America. He led Ecuador, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Panama to independence from Spain.
He hoped that these countries would be united and would form one nation, however, these countries soon started fighting each other. He was very disappointed at this outcome and ultimately decided to step down as president in 1830. Despite this, Bolivar is still considered the El Libertador- a national hero of South America.
29. Abraham Lincoln
United States, 1809-1865
Abraham Lincoln, the legend, the myth, was the 16th president of the United States of America and is credited for freeing American slaves. His tenure saw the United States of America torn between slave and anti-slave nations. The country also went through the great Civil War. It was the military prowess and statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln that led the country to victory.
He also signed the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 which freed the slaves. He was, however, brutally assassinated by a Confederate sympathizer just days after the end of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is part of history books and is taught to students in America.
30. Queen Victoria
United Kingdom, 1819-1901
Until Queen Elizabeth, second’s reign, Queen Victoria’s reign was the longest-ranging, a total of 63 years. She took over the hold of the great British empire at the early age of 18 and saw the empire go through massive changes. Her tenure saw the empire colonize a lot of countries and expand beyond measure.
Moreover, Queen Victoria also led the Empire through great scientific, industrial, and political change. She was married to Prince Albert and birthed nine children. She is also the first leader who went through eight assassination attempts and was unhinged. Her subjects loved her and moaned when she died.
31. Sitting Bull
Lakota Sioux, c. 1831-189
Sitting Bull is most widely known for leading his people to an extraordinary victory in the battle of Little Bighorn. He was the supreme chief of the Lakota Sioux nation and fought the mighty US troops.
After the defeat of its troops, the US sent many more troops, which ultimately led the Lakota Sioux nations to surrender. Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881, went back to South Dakota, and was part of many revolutionary movements. Although he met an untimely demise, he is still revered as a symbol of Native American Resistance.
32. Tsar Nicholas II
Russian Empire, 1868-1918
Tsars are known for their brutality and their ruthless leadership style, however, this generalization is far from true. Among the tsars was Tsar Nicholas, the second. He was the last of the Russian emperors and fought hard against the resistance.
He resisted the efforts of the new Duma, the Russian Parliament, from gaining power. However, he was soon forced to abdicate his throne. He sought exile in Siberia, where he was soon executed. His death led to Russia finally becoming part of the great Soviet Union.
33. Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi was a civil rights leader who fought against the British and compelled the British to give independence to joint India. More than a freedom fighter, Gandhi was known for his non-violent mantra and protest.
He followed in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr and never called for any bloodshed or violence against the British. Although he was assassinated soon after India sought independence, people around the globe still revere him for his amazing wisdom and his adamant nature.
34. Vladimir Lenin
Soviet Union, 1870-1924
Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He oversaw the transformation of Russia into the Soviet Union. He was a proponent of communism and established many communist reforms throughout the country. He was a stout believer in the theories of Karl Marx.
He redistributed a lot of wealth and land among the poor peasants, and also nationalized many banks and industries. But Lenin was in no way a simple leader. He was a divisive figure who championed socialism and cared for the poor. However, for other people, he established a totalitarian regime and oppressed his opponents.
35. Winston Churchill
United Kingdom, 1874-1965
Many consider Winston Churchill the most shrewd politician and leader to have walked the Earth. He was the prime minister who successfully led the UK throughout the second world war. He was a great orator and could command a room with ease.
He was also extremely inspirational and could keep people’s spirits high even during times of crisis. Winston Churchill was an animal lover, a greater author, and an even better painter. He also had the privilege of being the prime minister of the UK twice.
36. Joseph Stalin
Soviet Union, 1878-1953
Although Lenin and Stalin are mentioned together in much of history books, they were indeed very different people. When Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin became the new leader of the Soviet Union.
He was a ruthless leader and his brutality knew no bounds. He killed millions of his citizens who dared to oppose him. Joseph Stalin was also a divisive leader, whose policies led to the start of the 40 years cold war.
37. Franklin D. Roosevelt
United States, 1882-1945
When compared with other American presidents, Roosevelt often tops the list. He was the longest-serving US president who presented many diverse policies that helped the most underprivileged.
His economic programs allowed the country to recover from the Great depression. Although differently abled, Roosevelt inspired millions around the globe with his inspiring speeches. He was also the only president to be elected four times by the people.
38. Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was in no way a morally-upright leader. However, he is still known as a leader that transformed society. He started the fascist political party that gained popularity in Italy. He was also a ruthless leader who ruled as a dictator and joined the Allies during world war.
Mussolini won many battles, but met an untimely death after he was captured and then executed by the opposing forces.
39. Adolf Hitler
There is hardly a person alive today who is unaware of Adolf Hitler. He was undoubtedly one of the most ruthless and tyrannical leaders of all time. His actions and divisive actions started World War II. He took over much of Europe, killing millions around the globe.
Not just that, Adolf Hitler also sent around six million Jewish people to their deaths. Hitler met his death after the defeat of World War II and was forced to take his own life.
40. Mao Zedong
The founder of the Chinese Communist party, Mao Zedong, founded the people’s republic of China and started a cult following of sorts. He took some extreme measures and reformed China by taking steps like the Great Leap forward.
Some of his policies proved very unsuccessful, however, Mao Zedong refused to accept his mistakes and was adamant that he was on the right. Despite his flaws, Mao Zedong was a powerful leader who pushed China and transformed it into a world power.
What Can You Learn From the World-Famous Leaders in History?
1. The Ability to Look at the Bigger Picture
Great leaders of the past had great visions as well. Rather than fixating on small failures and setbacks, they kept their chins high and continued looking forward. There have been leaders like Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan who made small concessions because he wanted to get a separate homeland for Muslims.
He even gave up separate electorates for Muslims because he knew that to achieve something big, he would have to give up smaller things.
2. The Willingness to Accept Failure
History has seen many conquerors and leaders like Abraham Lincoln who lost in some battles but accepted their failures with courage and strength. Rather than blaming others for their mistakes, these leaders showcased exemplary traits of leadership and learned from their mistakes.
Their ability to go through a process of trial and error made them stronger and helped them learn the vital skills needed to achieve their goals in the future.
3. The Ability to Take a Leap of Faith
Even when you have all the right personality traits and the appropriate circumstances to back you up, you can still fail as a leader. This is because you are unable to take the leap of faith and trust your instincts.
All great leaders possessed the right confidence and were hence able to achieve something big. People like George Washington had very limited resources, but his ability to trust his guts made him achieve big things for the new-formed country.
4. Excellent Communication Skills
One thing that is synonymous with all great leaders is that they all had excellent communication skills. When they spoke, the world listened. Even leaders like Adolf Hitler were great orators.
Their verbal and non-verbal communication was in sync, which made them leave a long-lasting impact on their audiences. If you also want to hone your communication skills, you can get the right training at Best Diplomats.
5. Risk-Taking and Courage
Courage mostly comes when the outside situation is favorable. Most people show strength when they see a favorable outcome, however, the famous world leaders in history mentioned above also took huge risks in pursuit of their goals. They knew that they could fail miserably, but they still took the risks and shocked the entire world.
If you want to be a great leader, you can not always wait for the right time. Sometimes, you have to take a step forward and manipulate the situation so that it goes in your favor. This is how you adapt to a transformative leadership style.
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You may have heard about famous world leaders in history and wonder what made them achieve so much in their lifetime. The answer is quite simple. These famous leaders worked on themselves, perfected their attributes, and showed resilience in the face of hardship.
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Whether you want to be a leader yourself or you are a stout reader, it is important to widen your perspective and know more about the world you inhabit. By learning about the famous world leaders in history, you learn how great men and women gained power and changed the world for all times to come.
What Makes a Great Leader in history?
Great leaders are not only heads of state. You can find great leaders in all fields. Most famous leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos have cracked the code to success. They have found the right balance between business foresight, character, and performance. By having the right vision and the right strategy, they can keep their focus on the goal ahead.
Why Is Leadership Important in History?
If you open the pages to history, you will notice that every great transformation has come after a leader has taken a leap of faith. Whether it is gaining independence from the colonizer, getting freedom from tyrants, or conquering lands, all great things have been done by great leadership. World-famous leaders in history took crucial decisions that shaped the society of the future.
What Should We Learn From Great World Leaders?
There are many things that we can learn from world-famous leaders in history. This includes the ability to juggle between professional and personal. Moreover, you can learn how to make complex ideas accessible, so they leave a greater impact on the world. Additionally, reading and analyzing the lives of great leaders help you become an excellent orator who can command a room with ease.