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Much of the 20th century was characterized by tumultuous and chaotic events. The fall of empires hastened the self-determination of many nations and two world wars paved the way for a new world order – it was a time of painful change.
Through it all, many leaders rose to the occasion and changed the fate of their country for many decades to come. They helped redefine what it meant to lead.
Who were they and what separated them from the rest?
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Elected U.S. President in 1933, Roosevelt was faced with the challenge of finding a solution to get the country out of the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed four years prior and about 15 million people were out of a job.
His administration came up with the New Deal, an economic plan which put the country back on track. But after his big re-election win in 1936, there was little time to bask in his recent achievements as the whole world was on the cusp of another world war.
While most Americans were opposed to joining the war at that time, Roosevelt recognized the real dangers of a Europe ruled by Nazism and made efforts to convince the public of this looming threat.
After leading America out of the war in 1945, Roosevelt was president for 12 years – the longest-serving president in the U.S. Throughout his terms he showed an ability for innovation in the face of adversity and consistently exercised foresight.
Churchill’s considerably long political career took him to two world wars and two terms as Prime Minister (PM) of the U.K.
In World War I he was the head of the country’s navy. Although at the time he was remembered for a failed campaign against Turkey in 1929; he never gave up. This would become a key theme throughout his life and career, especially by the time World War II was in full swing. As PM during this time, Churchill was the voice of an entire nation.
He emphasized defiance and resilience against Nazism. During a time when many leaders chose to appease a vengeful German nation, Churchill never entertained the idea of surrendering – despite the several air bombings throughout the U.K. and the crippling defeat of the Allies at Dunkirk.
During the 1950s, Mandela was the Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), a political party that advocated and fought against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
In 1962, things weren’t looking bright for the party as Mandela was arrested by the authorities. He was imprisoned for almost 30 years. Throughout his time in prison he continued his advocacies and by the time of his release in 1990, he became the leading figure in the fight against apartheid.
He became president four years after his release. Instead of exacting vengeance on his political enemies, he emphasized reconciliation and recovery – paving way for several social reforms and an era of great economic growth.
Thatcher had many firsts, but on top of the list are two achievements: first female PM of the U.K. and the first PM to win three consecutive elections in over 160 years.
In the decades that followed World War II, the country was experiencing one of the worst economic slowdowns in its history. Unemployment was high and a recession battered the economy. When Thatcher became PM in 1975, she sought to remedy all this through sweeping economic reforms despite widespread opposition to her policies. Hence, the nickname bestowed upon her, “The Iron Lady”.
While many experts will continue to argue about her policies for many years to come, her policies helped the country bring down unemployment and kept inflation at bay.
Shining through in the moments that mattered
From resilience which inspired people to remain steadfast to facilitative leadership styles which helped align entire nations towards common goals, the greatest leaders had the right traits during the moments that mattered most.