19 Greatest Leaders Of Modern History

POSTED BY Tayyab Khalil, UPDATED ON February 2nd, 2024
Greatest Leaders of Modern History

Ordinary individuals realizing that the very first step to change the world begins with changing ourselves first is a perfect description of leadership. Everyone can follow but not everyone has the mentality to lead. Showcasing a motivated attitude with a desire to excel with time, leadership is a matter of how quickly a person can discover and expand the exceptionality within. The following list chronicles the 19 greatest leaders of modern history who accomplished a great deal in terms of leadership recognition by daring to think differently:

[Note: No religious figure and female leader has been taken into account in this compilation of the greatest leaders of modern history]


19. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

mustafa kemal ataturk

Rose to fame by being the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked on a journey dedicated to the freedom of his countrymen by leading the Turkish National Movement during the drastic times in the Turkish War of Independence.

Heavily regarded as a cultural icon in Turkey, Atatürk made countless reforms in the field of equality, economy, politics, rights, and education in the democratic secular state he founded despite much aggravation faced by the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.


18. Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill

When fear and darkness lurked in the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill rose to become the hero his country desperately needed for any chance of survival from the Nazi onslaught during World War II. With steadfastness and devotion, the British Politician eventually defeated a much more powerful adversary.

Apart from being known as one of the greatest leaders in the Second World War, Churchill served as the Prime Minister of his country on two different terms, won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and earned the reputation of being one of the greatest orators of his time.


17. Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

Image Source: RIA Novosti

Responsible for the communist movement in Russia and the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was the motivated man behind the creation of the first socialist state of the world which would later become a monumental empire.

Regarded as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century, the Russian communist served as the Premier of the Soviet Union and the leader of the Russian SFSR and made a striking impact on economic theories as well, particularly his contributions towards Marxism-Leninism.


16. Deng Xiaoping

deng xiaoping

After Mao Zedong’s death, the people of China needed someone to believe in. Fortunately, Deng Xiaoping lived up to their expectations and successfully managed to make his country’s economy one of the strongest and most emerging ones in the entire world.

As a part of the group of powerful politicians known as the Eight Elders, Zedong was the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China and impressively improved the standard of living for millions of his beloved countrymen.


15. Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler

Image Courtesy: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / Heinrich Hoffmann, via Wikimedia Commons

Even the hatred he has received from countless generations cannot hide the fact that as controversial as it may be, Adolf Hitler was undeniably one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. With a towering voice and outstanding military strategies (especially Blitzkrieg), the man conquered ten countries during his rule and shaped the modern world that we live in.

Even though Germany lost World War 2, Hitler crushed many of the once-mighty militaries of Europe during the war which eventually forced them to retreat from their colonies in the third world to their mainland (thus giving birth to many independent countries that we see today).

Humiliated and ridiculously defeated in World War I, Germany’s living conditions badly crumbled along with the economy. It was only through the leadership of Hitler, that within a short period, a defeated and demoralized nation like Germany possessed one of the mightiest militaries that have ever walked on earth. Many German military innovations were generations ahead of that time and still influence many modern military weapons and strategies.


14. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr

Everyone dreams but not everyone fights to make them a reality. Martin Luther King, Jr. was undoubtedly a fighter for what he believed in. His non-violent methods coupled with the foundations of Christianity battled oppression and negativity towards the black community with the hope of racial equality.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and respected for his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent approach to justice and equality; establishing his position as the greatest African-American leader of all time.


13. Mao Zedong 

Mao Zedong 

The near superpower stature of the People’s Republic of China owes a great deal to the leadership of none other than the founding father Mao Zedong. As the leader of the great communist revolution of China in 1949, Zedong is considered the most unique, if not the greatest, leader of his country.

With his theoretical contributions to Marxism-Leninism and severe firmness in military operations, Zedong catapulted his country from wretchedness to sheer greatness during his regime and skyrocketed its economy due to his ideology.


12Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

With decisiveness, wit, intensity, and governance, Julius Caesar had it all and was second to none when it came to leading during his time. Responsible for expanding the Roman Empire and reforming its government, Caesar is known as one of the most well-organized and cunning military commanders of all time.

Despite being labeled as a dictator by the very ones he once trusted, Caesar successfully earned the charisma, traits, resourcefulness, and strategically oriented military operations that a leader needs on the battlefield during the most critical times of war.


11. Nelson Mandela 

Nelson Mandela

Copyright: John Mathew Smith 2001

Prisoned for nearly 28 years, denounced as a communist terrorist, publicly humiliated, and still on his feet. No man will ever symbolize freedom more than the recently deceased former South African president Nelson Mandela.

His anti-apartheid movement and non-violent struggle to earn freedom for the black citizens of South Africa earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. Above all, he is an example of how a man’s humbleness and motivation can heal the pain of a race.


10. Fidel Castro

Greatest Leader Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was a revolutionary and the architect of the Cuban Revolution and went on to become the Prime Minister of Cuba. He also became the President of Cuba and served 32 years in office (from 1976 to 2008). He successfully faced many high-profile crises, assassination attempts, and even a CIA-backed invasion (more commonly known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion).

He was renowned for being an effective and bold commander, and his ability to appoint the right people for the right job (Che Guevara is the most famous one) was sensational.


9. Akbar I

akbar the great

Akbar I more commonly known as Akbar the Great was an influential Mughal Emperor who extended his empire by more than 200%. He masterminded the Mughal economy and expanded it very rapidly.

Akbar reorganized his military and incorporated several technological innovations into the Mughal army that allowed him to complete every one of his expansion campaigns.

He also introduced various secular reforms and even his religion called “Din-i-Ilahi” in the Mughal empire which allowed him to win the hearts of the majority of non-Muslims in his kingdom but it nonetheless inflamed Muslim religious scholars and Muslims in general (Akbar is ridiculed even to this day for inventing his religion in most Muslim countries).


8. Mahatma Gandhi 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

No man from the subcontinent has ever had an everlasting impact on the entire world with methods that strongly discouraged violence and civil disobedience like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. After leading many campaigns against the British Empire in India, the country finally gained independence in 1947.

With overwhelming thoughts on mankind, compassion towards the rights of his countrymen, and the usage of satyagraha for his protest, Gandhi will forever be recognized as one of the greatest leaders of all time and an inspiration to many individuals who will dare to peacefully change the world for a better place.


7Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Great Leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Professor Stanley Wolpert simply could not have said it better when he stated:

“Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”

As the leader of the All-India Muslim League and revered as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader in the Urdu language), Jinnah defied the odds by spending his nights and days trying to eliminate the oppression of the helpless Muslims of British India and eventually succeeded by creating a separate country for them to practice their religion, culture, and freedom without any fear or tyranny.


6. George Washington

George Washington

Not only the first but undoubtedly one of the greatest Presidents in the history of the United States of America, George Washington was a successful politician as well as a great commander-in-chief as observed when the Continental Army was under his headship during the American Revolutionary War.

A firm military commander and a motivated front-runner when it came to battling the British Colonial rulers to gain freedom, Washington gave everything he had and successfully became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and guided it during the initial years of its independence.


5. Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

Without a shadow of a doubt, Alexander III of Macedon is simply unsurpassed when it comes to concocting military techniques and battlefield defensive tactics as a military commander. Undefeated in battle, Alexander was an unstoppable force to be reckoned with in war.

His thirst to conquer impressively expanded his empire from Greece to Pakistan. Even by the time of his early death at the young age of 33 as a result of Malaria, the King of Macedon had accomplished more than enough to be known as nothing short of a legend.


4. Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte

Quick and agile, Napoleon Bonaparte was mulch-dimensional as his skills ranged from stabilizing the economy to winning battles. As an Emperor of France, Bonaparte allowed the freedom of religion and made sure that only the most qualified earned government jobs.

The man was revolutionary as they came, having established a civil code known as the “Napoleonic Code” which forbade royalties and any sort of privileges at birth. Apart from being the shining symbol of the French Republic, what makes Bonaparte unique in leadership is his decisiveness when it comes to defeating the opposing army while being outnumbered by a large margin.


3. Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi

Salah ud Din Ayyubi

ItwasntSuperman via Wikimedia Commons

Salahuddin Ayyubi, more commonly known in the West as Saladin, was a doughty Muslim leader during the 12th century who retook the holy city of Jerusalem against all odds and then successfully defended it against every attack from the Crusaders (until the Crusaders simply gave up and returned home).

Saladin never faced defeat on the battlefield and his military strategy and generosity towards enemy civilians (at times when no mercy was shown to the Muslims by Crusaders) earned him respect among both Muslims and the Crusaders alike.


2. Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh was a lithe and goateed passionate nationalist and the president of North Vietnam who struggled hard with a pertinacious resistance to all foreign interruptions in his country and defeated two of the greatest military powers at the time; France and the USA. Ho Chi Minh is the only leader in history who made the United States of America (a superpower at that time) taste defeat.

The “Uncle Ho”‘s unrelenting and adamant guerrilla force made some marvelous achievements including the creation of the Ho Chi Minh trail (which the United States National Security Agency itself regarded as one of the great achievements of military engineering of the 20th century) and the execution of the stunning Tet Offensive that eventually became the main reason behind the American defeat in the 19 year-long war.


1. Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Despite being born into a family that hardly earned a penny, Lincoln was destined for greatness and did not let any criticism stop him. Abolished slavery, successfully preserved the Union, and strengthened the economy, Abraham Lincoln is a perfect example of how an ordinary man can shape the world against all odds by defying every single obstacle in the path.

His strategically planned battle against the Confederate States over the fate of slavery in the country will always be a legendary one that successfully bore fruit when he won the Civil War. Mere words do not justify the great deeds done by the man who prioritized the very providence of his country before himself.

What names come to your mind when you think of the greatest leaders of modern history? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below!

One Comment

  1. George says:

    Adolf Hitler? Sure, he was charismatic, and did do a lot of great things for Germany (pre-war and excluding the genocide stuff), but he was a terrible military leader. His generals were the ones who implemented the blitzkrieg tactics, not him. His decision to invade the USSR was one of the worst military decisions ever made. Had he given more power to his generals (who actually knew what they were doing), Nazi Germany may have still ultimately lost the war, but they could’ve gone on much longer.

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