Applying 100 Leaders in World History in the Classroom

Blog post by: Lynne O’Hara, NHD Director of Programs

The 100 Leaders in World History, sponsored by Kenneth E. Behring, program is designed to help students think about the idea of leadership. A key piece of a democratic society is the need to evaluate and select leaders at the local, state, and national level. We hope that this study of historical leaders will help students evaluate the leaders of the past and construct intelligent, informed opinions about the leaders of the present.

Visit today!

100 leaders website

There are lots of ways to use this resource in the classroom. This is a great tool for a classroom bell-ringer or wrap-up activity – Using the profile for background information, they can compare and contrast with a different leader being studied in class that day, or decide that person’s best (or worst) leadership trait. Maybe you want to keep a classroom ranking of the greatest leaders studied in your curriculum, or challenge students to present alternate leaders who did not make the list.

Seven master NHD teachers wrote lesson plans to help you implement this resource in your classroom. Before looking at the website, Mark Johnson wrote a lesson to help students predict the list’s distribution over time and geography.  Julie Noble and Rory Dippold wrote lessons to help middle school students understand the concept of leadership and introduce the characteristics to students using children’s literature.  High school teachers might consider the ideas of Brian Weaver (running the historical figures in the 2016 presidential election), Amie Dryer (creating social media for historical leaders) or Rob Greenwood (building variations on Mount Rushmore).

An additional goal of the 100 Leaders initiative was to help bring the 2015 Leadership & Legacy in History theme into the classroom.  While it is true that this theme was inspired by the past theme of The Individual in History (1980, 1989, 2009), this theme is a little different because it asks students to frame their inquiry around the concept of leadership.

One warning: please do not see this list as a list of topic choices. There are thousands of historical leaders to choose from for the 2014-2015 contest. This list was selected by a group of historians and NHD teachers who met for one day.  You might want to consider leaders from the list who did not make the cut for the top 100 or look more locally. Also check out the list of sample topics, the theme narrative, or the theme book for ideas and inspirations.

While most of these leaders on this site had an impact on a national or global scale, there are thousands of leaders whose impact was felt in a state or local level. Yes, Thurgood Marshall successfully argued for school integration in the Brown v. Board of Education case. But who led the efforts for (or against) school integration in your community?

This week we will write a new post every day on each of the five criteria that our selection panel used to determine the 100 Leaders. The five criteria are:

  1. Articulates a vision,
  2. Motivates others,
  3. Makes effective decisions,
  4. Willing to confront tough issues, and
  5. Impacts history.

Today, is all about how a leader Articulates a Vision.

Articulates a vision

Leaders start with ideas. Leaders see a world that is, but rather than accepting the world as it is, they look to see what could be. They set their goals – whether they be Genghis Khan’s military conquest, Fidel Castro’s vision of a socialist Cuba, or Susan B. Anthony’s view of a more equal nation – and then they figure out how to make them happen.  Some leaders see economic opportunity, like Ray Kroc’s expansion of the McDonald’s Corporation or John D. Rockefeller’s domination of the oil industry with the Standard Oil Company.

These leaders need to be able to see a vision, but then they also need to able to articulate, or communicate these ideas to others.  Some leaders like Vladimir Lenin, George Washington, or Queen Elizabeth I displayed their political power by acquiring and maintaining power. They had loyal followers who maintained their position and allowed their vision to become a reality.

Sometimes great leaders disagree.  Fundamentally, most modern political debate can be traced back to the competing views of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Consider the historical conflicts that stem from the economic visions articulated by Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Many of our great leaders stood against each other – consider Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin.

Make sure you stop by tomorrow for an update on the next of the five criteria: Motivates Others!


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