Lessons from the Past for Your Business – Great Business Leaders

Going solo in business takes guts, perseverance, and drive – amongst other aptitudes. However, we’re doing so in a time when we can take some lessons from past business leaders and see how these entrepreneurs thrived.

Even though our business landscape may look hugely different in the digital age, there are still lessons we can learn from these business ‘greats’ of the past.

Thomas Edison

He might be most famous for inventing the lightbulb, but Thomas Edison had over 1000 different patents to his name. Behind his business success was this desire to invent, change, and innovate. He was the founding father of 14 different businesses, each one taking a unique idea and running with it. He didn’t do the expected, he looked at business problems and conundrums and went about solving them in a different way.

Lesson: Never fail to look at a business problem as a business opportunity.

Anita Roddick

Founder of the Bodyshop in 1976, with a single shop selling just a handful of products, the brand consistently grew to become a global corporation. What’s interesting about it is that it did so with a USP focused intensely on what today we’d call corporate social responsibility – in Bodyshop’s case a passion for environmental issues and human rights. Whilst Bodyshop undoubtedly went on to have wide scale problems in more recent history, Roddick proved that you don’t have to sacrifice your beliefs to build a successful business, in fact a successful business can be built on them.

Lesson: Build your business on your beliefs, not in contradiction to them.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford, man behind the car giant business, in fact worked for Thomas Edison’s company at one stage. Like Edison, he wasn’t afraid to experiment and challenge the way things had ‘always been done’. However, he wasn’t an overnight success. His first car business failed within the first few years. His experiments and innovations didn’t always work. However, he had tenacity and he didn’t give up. He learned from his failings and went on to be the brains behind the modern day assembly line.

Lesson: Use failure as a drive to refine success. Keep trying.

Nelson Mandela

You may not think of him as a business leader, but Mandela certainly had some wisdom to impart when it comes to business. People tend to be familiar with his political influence and testimony, however, what they don’t always realise is the leadership qualities he possessed. Mandela was actually adopted, by Chief Jongintaba. What’s interesting about this is that it was through this tribal leader that Mandela learned how to allow others to contribute to discussion. He would always listen first, then come in with his own input last.

Lesson: Listen, learn, adapt.

Elizabeth Garret Anderson

Elizabeth Garret Anderson has to break stereotypes to be successful. She was a pioneering scientist at a time when the field was firmly closed to women. She was repeatedly refused entry to a whole host of British universities where she was attempting to study medicine. However, she kept pushing and abandoned the conventional academic route and instead opened her own practice and dispensary. It took a long time, but through word of mouth, her patient base grew immensely.

Lesson: Fight against stereotypes and take a different road – the end goal is the same.

There are numerous other great business leaders from history. Just because our business landscape is different, doesn’t mean we can’t take inspiration from their success.

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