12 Great Leaders Who Changed Our Lives in Last 25 Years and Their Traits

There is always a debate about the great leaders of modern history or the great leaders of all time. Of course, some phenomenal leaders inspired millions like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar. However, we looked at the last 25 years and listed the 12 great leaders who affected our lives in the last 25 years and the traits of great leaders as well.

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12 Great Leaders of the Last 25 Years & Their Leadership Traits

When listing the leaders, you can take many parameters to rank. There is not an eternal truth, each list refers to some parameters. When creating the list of great leaders, we have taken into account the effect of the leader that impacted the daily lives of people and if it happened in the last 25 years.

12 great leaders affected our lives in the last 25 years and their leadership traits are as follows.

Leader Common Leadership Styles
1- Steve Jobs
Laissez-faire, Charismatic and Situational
2- Bill Gates
Authoritative, Participative, and Transactional
3- Elon Musk Autocratic and Charismatic
4- Nelson Mandela Servant, Transformational
5- Jack Welch Servant
6- Warren Buffet Laissez-faire
7- Howard Schultz Transactional
8- Ken Blanchard Situational and Servant
9- Steve Easterbrook Bureaucratic
10- Jim Lentz Participative
11- Rose Marcario Ethical
12- Barrack Obama Authentic

Now, let’s examine each of these great leaders, their leadership traits, and what makes them great.

1- Steve Jobs

Steven Paul Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011) was an American business magnate, inventor, and investor best known as the co-founder of Apple. His vision has emerged as the foundation of smartphones and devices that we all use today. Currently, there are more than 6.5 billion smartphones and more than 16 billion smart devices around the world. He introduced smart devices and phones into our lives and that is why he takes the top of the great leaders list.

So what about Jobs’ leadership style? He was applying several types of leadership styles. The most common ones were laissez-faire, charismatic, and situational leadership traits. Steve Jobs is at the top of the list of famous laissez-faire leaders. The term “laissez-faire” is French for “leave it be” and it exactly fits with the style of leadership. Delegative or laissez-faire leadership is a very hands-off management approach. When you use this style, you allow team members to set their own goals and deadlines, and you let them determine how to do their work.

The following quote from Steve Jobs proves his belief in laissez-faire leadership.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

One of the biggest traits of great leaders is their persistence. Even though he was fired from Apple, his persistent and committed leadership approach led him to success in the end. He describes it as follows:

“Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Many would be demotivated and lose passion if they were in Steve’s shoes. However, his perseverance, commitment, visions, and optimism helped him in succeeding in his 2nd attempt, and turned Apple into the world’s most valuable company, at the time.

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2- Bill Gates

William Henry Gates III (born October 28, 1955) is an American businessman, investor, philanthropist, and writer best known for co-founding the software giant Microsoft, along with his childhood friend Paul Allen. His vision brought computers to homes and the daily lives of billions of people. That is why he takes the second place in our great leaders list. There are over 2 billion computers in the world, including servers, desktops, and laptops. For desktop and laptop computers, Microsoft’s Windows is the most used operating system with a 69% market share.

What is Bill Gates’ leadership style? Gates is famous for his authoritative, participative, and transactional leadership traits. What makes Bill Gates a transactional leader is, that he is not adaptive to communication and employee engagement. He is referred to as one of the famous autocratic leaders as well. To keep track of his team, Gates visits them and asks challenging questions. He keeps asking until he is satisfied. Some even refer to him to be dismissive of others’ ideas.

He asked for the ideas of his team members and valued the group participation. This shows his participative leadership skills. However, in some cases, he was a quick decision-maker and excellent delegator of tasks even if the majority of the team was thinking differently than him which makes him an authoritative leader.

3- Elon Musk

Elon Reeve Musk (born June 28, 1971) is a businessman and investor. Musk is the founder, chairman, CEO, and chief technology officer of SpaceX; angel investor, CEO, product architect, and former chairman of Tesla, Inc. Even though electric vehicles and cars were invented before, they started to be adapted and popular with Musk’s successful Tesla cars. He showed the world that electric cars can drive longer and be as sportive as gasoline cars.

Founded in 2003 and headquartered in California, Tesla ranked as the most valuable automotive brand worldwide as of June 2023 and within the fourteenth most valuable brands across all industries in 2022. That same year, Tesla led the battery-electric vehicle market in sales. Most of its models are electric passenger cars, particularly sedans and crossover vehicles. Globally, Tesla’s vehicle deliveries reached a record 1.31 million units in 2022 and have been steadily growing year-over-year despite the global automotive semiconductor shortage.

Being a pioneer of electric vehicles and space ventures makes Elon Musk one of the great leaders of the last 25 years. Elon Musk shows the traits of autocratic leadership and charismatic leadership.  He often makes quick decisions that team members haven’t vetted. So, Elon Musk is definitely on the top famous autocratic leaders’ list.

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster. If something’s important enough, you should try it. Even if – the probable outcome is a failure.”

You can see the risk-taking, agility, and adaptability traits of charismatic leadership in this quote. Moreover, his SpaceX and Tesla ventures show his visionary skills regarding building a better future for humanity which are traits of charismatic leadership. You can read more about Elon Musk leadership.

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4- Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (born Rolihlahla Mandela; 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid activist and politician who served as the first president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Mandela fought for equality and democracy in his country. While he was trying to serve his people, he was against the powerful colonizers and he had to put his life and interests at risk while fighting for his people. That is why he takes place in great leaders lists many times. Mandela says: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

His servant leadership traits and fighting against the colonizers became an inspiration for many of the leaders after him. You can read more about Nelson Mandela leadership style.

5- Jack Welch

Jack Welch is an iconic leader of General Electric. He started his career in General Electric in 1960, as a junior chemical engineer and became the CEO from 1981 until 2001. Welch is on the great leaders list because his wisdom and visionary thinking led a bulb manufacturer to be a multinational conglomerate.

Welch’s leadership style was servant leadership. Jack Welch’s famous saying is “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” His servant leadership traits transformed General Electric from a bulb manufacturer into a multinational corporation and the products of the company were used by billions of people around the world.

You can read more about Jack Welch leadership style.

6- Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet is named the best investor of our age. Buffett is famous for investing in companies with competent management teams and trusts them to run the companies in their own style. His phenomenal investment skills and creation of billions of dollars in wealth starting from the ground make him appear in the great leaders ranking.

Buffet is a believer in laissez-faire leadership. In an annual report from Berkshire Hathaway in 2010, Warren Buffett said:

“We allow our subsidiary companies to operate independently without supervision because it allows many of our managers to keep an owner-oriented behavior, and they use them well in motivating their team members to perform well.”

This laissez-faire leadership approach that Buffet has allowed Berkshire Hathaway to become one of the world’s largest and most successful investing companies. You can read more about Warren Buffett leadership style.

7- Howard Schultz

Howard D. Schultz is an American businessman and author who served as the chairman and chief executive officer of Starbucks from 1986 to 2000, from 2008 to 2017, and as interim CEO from 2022 to 2023. Shultz turned Starbucks into the world’s largest coffee house chain and deserves to be on the great leaders list by serving coffee to millions if not billions every day.

Schultz favors and is a strong believer in power, loyalty, staff training, consistency, employee motivation, and fringe benefits. This makes him a strong transactional leader. You can read more about Howard Schultz leadership style.

8- Ken Blanchard

You might not have heard the name Ken Blanchard if you are not a business leader or not interested in leadership. Ken Blanchard is a famous leadership expert, author, and speaker. He is known as the father of situational leadership with Dr. Paul Hersey, which is widely used by many leaders in today’s world. Even though he did not produce or invent something that was used by millions, his theory was widely applied by several business leaders who affected millions of people.

Blanchard is famous for his situational and servant leadership traits.

9- Steve Easterbrook

Stephen James Easterbrook is a British business executive and the ninth of the great leaders on our list. From March 2015 to November 2019, he was president and chief executive of McDonald’s, the American fast food company. He effectively oversaw thousands of McDonald’s franchisees in completely different parts of the world with bureaucratic traits of administration. Easterbrook took after an inflexible demonstration that required all franchisees to take after the standard rules and controls characterized by the administration.

The former CEO of McDonald’s, Steve Easterbrook, is accepted to be a bureaucratic leadership pioneer. This leadership style works successfully for huge organizations like McDonald’s. McDonald’s takes after a bureaucratic framework wherein the team individuals make negligible choices on their claim at lower levels once in a while taking control. Due to its gigantic estimate, usually vital for McDonald’s to streamline its forms and work at the most extreme productivity.

10- Jim Lentz

James E. Lentz is an American business executive and former chief executive officer for Toyota North America. Lentz began his career at Toyota in 1982 as a Merchandising Manager climbed up the ladder to the top and ended his Toyota career by 2019. As a leader of the Japanese company Toyota, he was successful in making the top car sales in the US and this puts Lentz on the great leaders list.

Top 3 Car Sales by Brand in the US in 2021

Through his years at the company, he has realized that being a “tyrant boss” isn’t going to get you very far. The following quotes from an interview show his participative leadership traits:

“You’re not going to motivate people that way. Even back in the day, if you were very dictatorial in your management style, you got exactly what someone asked you to do. Not less, but not more. Today if people really understand why they’re doing something, I think they give more.”

11- Rose Marcario

Marcario joined Patagonia in 2008 as a CFO and then became a CEO in 2014. Since then, she raised the ethical leadership of the company to a new level.

Whilst also achieving financial success, Marcario has fought to defend public lands and has created Patagonia Action Works to help its customers become involved in environmental and social activism. She has also encouraged customers to exchange and repair their clothes rather than always buying new ones – standing true to the idea that “you do things not when it is convenient or when someone is watching, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Is it easy to encourage people to exchange or repair their clothes, rather than buy new ones? It is against the sales and profitability of the company. However, as the pillar of ethical leadership, they foster the “right thing”. As a pioneer of this movement, Marcario saves a seat in the great leaders list.

12- Barrack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama is well-known for giving value to all perspectives and ideas in his meetings. He was sharing the situation transparently with the team and expecting to come to a consensus based on the current conditions which are the traits of authentic leadership style.

Obama is on the great leaders list because of many successful reforms accomplished during his administration including the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “the ACA” or “Obamacare”, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010.

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5 Common Traits of Great Leaders

We have seen the 12 great leaders and how they affected the lives of billions if not millions above. But what does make them a great leader? Are there common traits of great leaders? Although each leader and their leadership traits are unique and different, there are some commonalities among the great leaders. We’ve listed the top five common traits of great leaders.

💡 You might be interested in the 21 Leadership Skills Professionals Expect to See in the Workplace article.

Great Leaders’ Traits #1 – Communication – Relationship

Communication, relationship, and interpersonal skills are crucial for leaders. Based on research, executives and managers spend 90% of their time on communication. Although there are leaders known as not perfect communicators such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk, the majority of the great leaders are excellent communicators.

Professionals seek for confident and easy communication with their leaders. They expect to see emotional intelligence and leaders who can see the issues from different perspectives. Have you seen leaders go to their room in the morning, go to meeting after meeting until the evening, and not set aside any time for their team? That’s an example of bad communication and bad leadership.

Leaders should wander around and be visible to the people in their team. So, people should feel comfortable when communicating with their leaders and the leaders should be easily accessible. That is why professionals pick communication as the top leadership skill.

Great Leaders’ Traits #2 – Encouragement – Motivating Others

Great leaders inspire people, motivate their teams, and encourage them to produce the best results. Professionals seek encouragement as a leadership skill in their leadership team.

There are several ways to encourage people. The most common ways are setting clear goals, giving incentives, appreciation verbally, and celebrating success.

If you see any mistake or misbehavior of your team members, avoid talking about this in the group. Try to set up a one-on-one meeting. Refrain from phone or online meetings.

Great Leaders’ Traits #3 – Charisma – Persuasion & Influence

Charisma is described as a personal quality of presence or charm that others find compelling. Charisma is one of the intangible but sensible traits of great leaders. You cannot avoid charisma when defining leadership.

Scholars in sociology, political science, psychology, and management reserve the term for a type of leadership seen as extraordinary. In these fields, the term “charisma” is used to describe a particular type of leader who uses “values-based, symbolic, and emotion-laden leader signaling”.

Charismatic leaders combine charm, interpersonal connection, and persuasiveness to motivate others. Professionals seek charisma, persuasion, and influence leadership skills in their executives. These skills will help their business unit to overcome obstacles, communicate with other departments in the organization easily, and have a better performance in the end.

Great Leaders’ Traits #4 – Conflict Management – Negotiation

Conflicts are unavoidable wherever there is a human interaction. You should not be afraid of the conflicts. Great leaders must have conflict management and negotiation leadership skills.

There are five types of conflict management techniques:

  1. Avoiding: This is simply delaying to make a decision about the issue.
  2. Competing: Addressing the conflict directly and trying to solve the conflict as quickly as possible.
  3. Accommodating: This is resolving the issue by giving in to the opposing party.
  4. Compromising: This is referred to as “lose-lose” as well. Each side is pushed to make some sacrifices to reach a resolution.
  5. Collaborating: This method looks for “win-win” resolution. Parties look for a solution that will make everyone happy.

Great leaders use their team leadership skills to overcome conflicts in the best way. Win-win may not be the ultimate outcome in some circumstances.

Great Leaders’ Traits #5 – Coaching

Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. The learner is sometimes called a coachee. Occasionally, coaching may mean an informal relationship between two people, of whom one has more experience and expertise than the other and offers advice and guidance as the latter learns; but coaching differs from mentoring by focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to more general goals or overall development.

Great leaders are excellent coaches. They coach their team and improve their competence so they can take maximum performance from them.


There are several posts about great leaders. Each ranking takes into account different parameters. We have listed the great leaders that changed our lives in the last 25 years.

These great leaders have common leadership traits as well. We have listed the top 5 common traits of great leaders as well. These are communication, encouraging others, charisma, conflict management, and coaching.

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