Choosing 8 greatest life lessons from these 8 successful leaders was not an easy undertaking.

There were so many golden nuggets from the life story of each of these successful leaders that you and I can use to elevate our career journey and our lives.

The successful leaders that this article covers are Kobe Bryant, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Phil Knight, Mahatma Gandhi, Lee Iacocca, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have written articles covering their individual life stories in great detail. Feel free to click on the links above to dive deeper into each of their life stories.

Hereunder are the 8 greatest life lessons which resonated with me from these 8 successful leaders:

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Malcolm X

The greatest lesson from the Life of Malcolm X was the transformative power of reading. Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X was born in Nebraska, USA but grew up in Lansing, Michigan.

Malcolm X dropped out of school and was involved in burglary and theft with his friend Sophia, Shorty and her sister. During his 7 years in prison, Malcolm X began reading. He got stationary which he used to teach himself to write in a straight line.

He used the dictionary to learn new words which he transcribed from the dictionary. Every spare moment of his time in prison was dedicated to reading. As a result, he was able to transform from a dropout into one of the pivotal voices in the civil rights moment in the USA.

His autobiography summarised his prison life as follows:

“From then until the time I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. Between my visitors and reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free on my life “(page 173).

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Phil Knight

Selecting a single life lesson from the life of the extraordinary Phil Knight was tough. However, the lesson that I selected was that sometimes to get success, you have to be prepared to go alone.

Creator of the well-known brand, Nike, Phil Knight describes himself as a Shoe Dog. A shoe dog according to his memoir is someone who has devoted themselves wholly to making, selling, buying or designing of shoes.

At the age of 24, Knight planned a whirlwind trip around the world. In particular, he wanted to visit Japan. He invited his friend Carter to go along with him. Their first stop was Hawaii and they got jobs there selling encyclopedias.

Knight was a terrible salesman of encyclopedias so he decided to quit. He tried his hand at selling mutual funds which he excelled at. When he felt like it was time to leave Hawaii, Carter decided to stay as he found a girlfriend in Hawaii.

In his autobiography, Knight described this moment:

“The last thing I wanted was to pack up and return to Oregon. But I couldn’t see traveling around the world alone, either. Go home, a faint inner voice told me. Get a normal job. Be a normal person. Then I heard another faint voice, equally emphatic. No, don’t go home. Keep going. Don’t stop.” (pg.23)

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Lee Iacocca

Well known for his role as President of Ford Motor Company, Lee Iacocca was the son of Italian immigrants. Iacocca grew up in Pennyslvannia, USA. He was the inventor of the Ford Mustang and recently died on July 2nd, 2019.

The greatest life lesson from Iacocca’s life was one of his keys that he used in management. He described the one key to management is to asking his team to write down their goals. The discipline of writing down goals is the first step to making things happens.

Iacocca would ask:

“What are your objectives for the next ninety days? What are your plans, your priorities, and your hopes? And how you intend to go about achieving them” (p.47).

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born in a small village in Mvezo, South Africa. Given the name Rolihlahla at birth, Mandela was one of the greatest political leaders of all times.

The greatest life lesson from his life story was at times, it is best to choose the middle path. This lesson can be beneficial at every stage of the career of you and I.

When Mandela was 23 years old, he got a job at a white law firm and was trying to get on his feet. At the firm, one of the secretaries indicated that there were two new cups which was assigned to him and his colleague, Gaur Radebe for tea.

At tea time, when tea was being served, his colleague Gaur drank from the older cup. Refusing to offend, neither parties, Mandela said he was not thirsty.

In recalling this moment, Mandela stated:

“For a moment I was in a quandary. I neither wanted to offend the secretaries nor alienate my new colleague, so I settled on what seemed to me the most prudent course of action: I declined to have any tea at all. I said I was not thirsty, I was then just twenty- three years old, and just finding my feet as a man, as a resident of Johannesburg and as an employee of a white firm, and I saw the middle path as the best and most reasonable one” (p. 83).

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The greatest life lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was that he followed his heart. King made a pivotal decision in his career and life which was not supported by his father.

Amidst concerns about the racial segregation in Montgomery, Alabama which was worse than Atlanta, King decided to accept a role there as a pastor.

King’s father was also a pastor. His father’s preference was for him to work alongside him at Ebenezer church, a role that one day he was marked to fill.

This was a destiny decision as it led to him becoming the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association and his involvement in the civil rights movement.

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Mahatma Gandhi

The greatest life lesson from Mahatma Gandhi was that he embraced continuous learning. Gandhi dabbled in gaining knowledge in new areas. As an example, Gandhi wanted to cut his expenses by learning to wash his clothing.

He bought a book, learnt the skill and also taught it to his wife. Gandhi was not very good at the art of washing and ironing at first. However, he later mastered the skill.

Gandhi stated:

“In the course of time I became an expert washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing was by no means inferior to laundry washing. My collars were no less stiff or shiny than others” (p. 212-213).

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Muhammad Ali

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Muhammad Ali was born in Kentucky, USA. The greatest lesson from his life story was the power of belief.

Before he became the world heavyweight champion, he introduced himself in professional circles as the world heavyweight champion.

At the age of 14, he heard Rocky Marciano announced as the World Heavyweight Champion and that was life changing for him.

Ali stated:

“Heavyweight Champion of the World. All the world? And from that day on I want to hear that said about me. I pull my head out of the car and stand there in the rain. Still Heavyweight Champion of the World, Cassius Clay” (p. 50).

The Greatest Lesson from the Life of Kobe Bryant

Fondly known as the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant was arguably one of the greatest basket ballers of all times.

In my opinion, the greatest lesson from his life story was his work ethics. Kobe was a hard worker. His routine was grueling which involved him working early in the morning and late in the nights.

It generally involved training, lifting, hooping and film study. He kept this routine whether he was in season and off season.

He described his routine as tiring and took catnaps on many occasions if needed for a bust of new energy.

Kobe stated:-

“Sometimes, as part of that, I’d be so tired I’d need a quick nap at some point during the day. Whether before practice or a Finals game, on the trainer’s table, five hours, before tip or 60 minutes, if I was tired I would doze off.” (pg.17)

Final Thoughts

Hope these 8 greatest life lessons from these 8 successful leaders will help you elevate your career journey. Feel free to read the individual articles of each of these successful leaders for more golden nuggets.

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