11 Examples of Good Leaders in Modern History

By: | Updated: September 22, 2023

Here is our list of the best examples of good leaders.

Good leaders share a level of brilliance that enables them to inspire the masses toward new ideas and innovations. Examples include Mahatma Gandhi, Oprah Winfrey, and Martin Luther King Jr. Reading about exceptional leaders is beneficial because it allows you to learn positive traits and behaviors to emulate.

These individuals display sharp leadership skills and the best of leadership styles, and are the opposite of bad leaders.


This list includes:

  • great leaders
  • famous leaders
  • best leaders in the world
  • examples of leadership
  • greatest leaders of all time
  • historical leaders
  • great leaders in history
  • great leaders of today
  • famous world leaders
  • inspiring leaders in history
  • influential leaders
  • modern leaders

Here we go!

List of examples of good leaders

Influential leaders have existed since the dawn of recorded history. Thanks to those individuals, we have the new and modern world we know now. The following are some of the world’s greatest leaders and the qualities that made them so outstanding.

1. Mahatma Gandhi – The World’s Most Influential Anti-War Leader

Mahatma Gandhi has a wide range of contributions to the world, which explains his place among the examples of good leaders in history. As India’s independence movement leader, he accomplished extraordinary feats with nonviolent civil disobedience. Gandhi’s spiritual identity was as deep as his role in India’s independence, and it has inspired world leaders, scientists, philosophers, and even business people.

The 24-year-old Gandhi’s promising legal career in India sent him to South Africa. He experienced South Africa’s deep-rooted racial segregation and prejudice on this trip.

On June 7, 1893, a white man threw Gandhi from a train when he refused to move to the back of the vehicle. This event was perhaps the most significant turning point in Gandhi’s life. That 1906 refusal was Gandhi’s first civil disobedience act, yet it was far from his last. Gandhi would battle for Indian rights in the United States for the next nine years before returning to his native land to fight for Indian independence.

After several years of struggle, Gandhi rose to prominence as a renowned freedom activist. Gandhi’s “Quit India” agitation in 1942 cleared the ground for Britain to eventually withdraw from the nation after years of struggle and many arrests.

Today, Gandhi is known for his dedication to nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and a simple way of life. His message of love, tolerance, and self-sacrifice still inspires millions worldwide.

2. Martin Luther King Jr — Celebrated Civil Rights Activist

It is hard to imagine a more revered citizen of the United States than the Baptist preacher and social crusader Martin Luther King Jr. He served as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 until his untimely death in 1968. MLK employed a wide range of techniques in his leadership, such as influence, motivation, consideration, and stimulation. His organization of the civil rights movement was instrumental in abolishing legal segregation in the United States.

As a servant leader, MLK had a tremendous impact. He was transformative, but he also tended to be autocratic. He served as a mentor and a coach. Charisma leadership, however, was King’s primary tool for winning over the American people and gaining international acclaim.

MLK’s visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace in India inspired him to continue his nonviolent crusade. During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. would imprint on American history by delivering the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of King’s work permitted the federal government to desegregate public facilities. MLK got the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. Like Gandhi before him, he showed that nonviolent demonstrations might significantly impact social transformation. The civil rights struggle was MLK’s life’s mission.

Martin Luther King Jr is famous for his quote, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Get our free team building toolbox

  • icebreaker games
  • bingo cards
  • DIY guides

heartby teams at FedEx, Amazon, Deloitte and 73,930+ others

Tool Box

3. Nelson Mandela – A Freedom Fighter

When you think of Nelson Mandela, you are likely to think of a man who embodies both determination and patience. Like Martin Luther King, Mandela was a famous civil rights leader of the twentieth century. Historians revere him as one of the best examples of good leaders.

At the age of 18, Mandela got active in the civil rights struggle, and he spent the next 20 years spearheading a resistance against the apartheid regime. His efforts led to the end of apartheid in South Africa, and he went on to become the first democratically elected president. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. As a leader, Nelson Mandela devoted himself to improving the lives of his people and spreading the same philosophy of freedom and equality to other countries.

Nelson Mandela’s book, Long Walk to Freedom, eloquently recounts his lifetime struggle to overcome apartheid. There have not been many leaders who sacrificed as much as Nelson Mandela did for his cause. His activism landed him in jail for more than 27 years. Yet, through sheer persistence, he has become one of history’s most renowned figures.

“I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days.” – Nelson Mandela

4. Winston Churchill – A Steadfast Leader

Many consider Winston Churchill to be one of the most outstanding leaders in contemporary history and the messiah of democracy. Winston Churchill faced a monumental challenge in World War II: guiding Britain and the Allied nations to victory over the Nazis. In the cruelest war of the 20th century, he guided Britain from the verge of defeat to triumph with his knowledge, moral character, and determination.

Winston Churchill, a member of the British aristocracy born in 1874, rose to prominence as a politician and military leader. Before venturing into politics, he was a prolific writer. Also, he was famous for his perseverance in the political arena. It took Churchill a whopping 40 years to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, yet he became one of the most outstanding 20th-century leaders.

After the Axis forces’ defeat, Churchill also played a key role in establishing the post-war peace that propelled Western civilization into one of its most prosperous eras.

One of Churchill’s greatest assets was oration. Today, leaders worldwide draw inspiration from his noteworthy remarks. When you consider Churchill’s battle with depression and bipolar personality, his inspiring leadership style becomes even more remarkable.

This quote from Churchill motivates people to be resilient, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

5. Walt Disney – The Participatory Leader

The man who founded one of the world’s most successful and prolific entertainment companies used different leadership approaches throughout his career. In the years leading up to World War II, Disney used participatory leadership to build the foundation of his empire.

This leadership style values the contribution of team members and peers, yet the leader is ultimately responsible for making the final decision.

For example, after the popularity of Snow White in the late 1930s, Disney started building a massive studio complex in Burbank, California. He often traveled across the nation to recruit over 700 talented artists. He even offered to pay for the artists’ education as an incentive to help enhance their abilities.

Disney understood having too many hands could ruin a project. Therefore, he ensured every team member comprehended the vision for the stories and the storytelling techniques and had a clear role. A single story typically needs the contribution of several artists, which necessitated a mastery of participative leadership.

“Leadership means that a group, large or small, is willing to entrust authority to a person who has shown judgment, wisdom, personal appeal, and proven competence.” – Walt Disney

6. Colin Powell – A Situational Leader

When it comes to warfare, circumstances can change at the drop of a hat. Colin Powell is an exceptional example of situational leadership. The man’s reputation cut across party lines and ideological divides and made him one of the most respected personalities in American history.

The situational leader does not adhere to a particular leadership style but adjusts to the moment’s needs. This style was pivotal in Powell’s life and work. He had to learn to deal with the realities of military bureaucracy and politics as he progressed through the ranks. He worked with different presidents and adopted an entirely new set of leadership abilities and beliefs for each administration.

“With some people, you spend an evening; with others, you invest it,” he would say to reflect how people adjust based on the company.

7. Abraham Lincoln – The Democratic Leader

Abraham Lincoln was an American hero who symbolized the advent of an age of liberty, self-government, and equality for all people.

Abraham was exceptionally gifted. He became a self-taught lawyer, and in 1846, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives. There, he had a profound impact on what would become the world’s freest and richest nation.

Lincoln accelerated the country’s economic progress while maintaining his core ideals. By 1860, he had won the Republican nomination for president and became the president. The Confederate States of America came to be due to Lincoln’s triumph over the slave states in the South.

Abraham utilized his oratory prowess to give the Gettysburg Address and other great speeches. These inspirational talks earned the support of the American people during the American Civil War. Until this day, Lincoln is synonymous with the ideals of freedom, democracy, equality, and unity. He became one of history’s most revered and enduring leaders because of his courage to stand by his principles.

“This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln

8. St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) – The Great Humanitarian

Mother Teresa is a role model for leaders worldwide because of her unyielding commitment to ending suffering. It is impossible to overstate Mother Teresa’s impact on the world’s poorest, most disadvantaged, and most vulnerable individuals.

During the Siege of Beirut in 1982, she demonstrated a remarkable ability to transcend conflicts and enemy lines. To save 37 children stranded in a front-line hospital, Mother Teresa successfully mediated a cease-fire between the Israeli military and Palestinian rebels. Teresa and the Red Cross subsequently evacuated the young patients through the combat zone.

Teresa’s life changed forever after the 1943 Bengal famine, which claimed the lives of 2.1 million people. A “calling inside a calling” led her to leave her post as headmistress of the convent after 20 years of teaching.

Teresa found herself living in the slums, struggling with hunger and poverty. She managed to start a school for underprivileged children despite the lack of necessary resources and taught the youth to read and write using sticks in the mud. Mother Teresa’s newfound fame drew people from India to her hospices, hospitals, and orphanages. The mission quickly spread around the globe.

In the 1970s, the church supported orphans, people plagued by addiction, poverty, disability, old age, and catastrophe across the globe, including the United States. Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

“Little things are indeed little, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing.” – Mother Teresa

9. Bill Gates – The Philanthropist

Bill Gates played a role in transforming information technology. He displayed signs of intelligence at an early age, including an aptitude for business and entrepreneurship. By the time Gates was 15, he and Paul Allen had already begun a company together. Only a few years later, the two would be on their way to revolutionizing how businesses and individuals interact throughout the globe.

Gates and Allen started Microsoft in 1975. The duo put all their energy into the project. Bill Gates’ remarkable vision, aggressive business strategy, and unmatched work ethic contributed largely to Microsoft’s success. He was an authoritarian leader and could make quick decisions in ever-changing scenarios.

Bill Gates put in long hours to grow Microsoft and keep it on top with an increasingly competitive market. When Bill Gates stepped down as Chairman in 2014, he continued to serve as a technology advisor. As a result, Microsoft now has a yearly revenue of almost $100 billion and employs more than 120,000 people throughout the globe.

Incredibly, Bill Gates is not just a Microsoft co-founder. Bill and Melinda Gates have established a $44 billion endowment to improve healthcare and alleviate extreme global poverty as committed philanthropists. No other private foundation has ever come close to matching its size and scope. By 2013, Bill Gates had personally contributed $28 billion to the foundation, a monument to his generosity and morality.

“We are all created equal in the virtual world, and we can use this equality to help address some of the sociological problems that society has yet to solve in the physical world.” – Bill Gates

10. Oprah Winfrey – Renowned Talk Show Host

Oprah Winfrey is more than a talk show presenter. As one of the world’s most prominent corporate CEOs, she is an influential figure in popular culture.

Born in rural Mississippi, Oprah has come a long way since her humble beginnings. Before her media ascent in the ’80s, many individuals of her economic and racial background could not have dreamed of making it in show business.

She began her television career in Baltimore, Maryland. As of 1986, the Oprah Winfrey Show was a nationally syndicated television show. The platform helped her achieve worldwide fame and critical acclaim.

In the 90s, talk shows like Jerry Springer raked in higher ratings with trashy topics, yet Oprah chose to maintain the respect and sanctity of her program. When Oprah Winfrey Show’s ratings started to drop, she refused to give up her principles. By being true to herself in a business rife with cheap techniques, Oprah rose in prominence and wealth throughout her career. Her core principles highlight her among the examples of ethical leaders.

Through Oprah’s Book Club, she has helped the publishing industry tremendously. She aired this segment on her program to promote literacy and help undiscovered writers get recognition for their work.

Oprah has also raised millions of dollars for disadvantaged children and young people via numerous charitable organizations.

Life Magazine has named her the most influential woman of her generation. This recognition is a testimony to this media star who has done it all and encouraged a whole generation of young women to achieve their aspirations regardless of their color or ethnicity.

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” – Oprah Winfrey

11. Mary Kay Ash – The Visionary Leader

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay cosmetics, built an organization for female employees. The goal was to ensure that women received equal treatment and merited promotions. Her business success resulted from encouraging her sales team to concentrate on pushing products they could sell easily, not necessarily the lucrative ones.

The company’s employees and independent salespeople abide by the core principle of making every customer feel valued. Mary Kay Ash had a strong leadership mindset as a coach. She prioritized the success of her sales staff above the success of her own business, and the results were immediate and positive.

Ash rewarded her best achievers with trips, jewelry, and even pink Cadillacs because she felt it was necessary to recognize those who put in the extra effort. The success of her firm was due to the well-trained and self-assured employees. She makes her name among the examples of good work leaders.

“Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.” – Mary Kay Ash.


It is impossible to disregard the contributions of great leaders, even if the passage of time has deemed some of their methods controversial.

While certain qualities underlie effective leaders, leadership styles and personalities vary. You can develop your method from the approaches of other great leaders. Be inspired by individuals making a difference in your community and your own life, and nurture a leadership style that works for you.

Next, check out these signs of a good manager and this list of team management skills.

We also have a list of training programs for leadership.

Book wildly fun team building events with expert hosts

View experiences
team building event banner

FAQ: Good leaders

Here are answers to questions about good leaders.

What are examples of good leadership?

Examples of good leadership include vision, integrity, and collaboration.

Who are some of the best leaders in history?

Some of the best leaders in history are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Winston Churchill.

Who are some of the best modern work leaders?

Some of the best modern work leaders are Bill Gates, Mary Kay Ash, and Oprah Winfrey.

Author avatar


People & Culture Director at teambuilding.com.
Grace is the Director of People & Culture at teambuilding.com. She studied Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, Information Science at East China Normal University and earned an MBA at Washington State University.


Share this article:
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Get our free team building tool box

$49 value at no cost.

Tool Box

Enter your email for instant access