The Significance of Historical Figures: Number One Leadership Example

2014-05-01 19:40

The Significance of Historical Figures: Number One Leadership Example

By Vusi Kweyama,

01 May 2014

Inspiration for this article was drawn from the book “Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank” by Steven Skiena and Charles B. Ward. *

The book ranks the significance of historical figures, not following the conventional approach that historians often take by evaluating their individual achievements, but “by aggregating millions of traces of opinions into a computational data-centric analysis." In simple terms, these historical figures are ranked the same way that Google ranks web pages by using different measurements related to their reputation to determine a single consensus value.

While significance is related to their popularity, something different is being measured. For example, take U.S. President Chester A. Arthur: His account has seemingly been erased from history books, even though authors Skiena and Ward rank him as the 499th most significant person in history. President Arthur is more historically significant than young pop-singer Justin Bieber who is currently ranked 8,633, even though the former president may have a less dedicated following and lower contemporary name recognition than Bieber. What distinguishes these historically significant figures is that they leave behind statistical evidence of their existence, “if one knows where to look for it.” Hence, the authors of “Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank” used several data sources to bolster ranking systems, such as Wikipedia, scanned books, and Google n-grams.

Furthermore, to establish a certain degree of fairness, when comparing contemporary figure Britney Spears with ancient-Greek philosopher Aristotle, the authors adjusted for the fact that today’s stars will fade from living memory over the next several generations. They argue, “It is clear that Britney Spears’ mindshare will decline substantially over the next 100 years, as people who grew up hearing her are replaced by new generations.” But Aristotle’s reputation will be much more stable because this transition occurred long ago. The reputation he has now is presumably destined to endure. By analyzing traces left in millions of scanned books, we can measure just how fast this decay occurs, and correct for it." To validate results, authors compared them “against several standards: published rankings by historians, public polls, even in predicting the prices of autographs, paintings, and baseball cards."

In other words, the significance of these historical figures is not only validated by their popularity and moral stance during their lifetime, but also by the endurance of the traces of their existence throughout generations. It is as if history would like to forget some of them because of their thought patterns or leadership actions, which disturbed desirable conceptions of justice, as well as societal stability. However, history cannot erase the public’s memory of these figures because they have left behind significant evidence of their existence and accomplishments.

I would like to briefly dissect the life and the leadership significance of the topmost historical figure on the list — Jesus — while attempting to document what made him stand out amongst many. My natural inclination, as a Christian, would be to encourage readers to embrace my faith position, but I will refrain in the interest of conducting a sober analysis of this most significant historical figure. To see the list of the hundred most significant figures in history, click here:

I understand through biblical accounts and other historical accounts that there are numerous debates about His true nature and functionality on Earth; that is, whether Jesus was simply a prophet or the one-and-only Son of God. However, there is consensus among scholars that He lived out and demonstrated excellent leadership in several historically documented ways. My analysis of Jesus’ life, accomplishments, and significance doesn’t focus on the religious controversies surrounding His existence. Instead, it highlights His character traits and leadership quality observed by researchers, which propelled Him to the number-one position on the list of history’s most significant figures.

Through biblical narratives and historical accounts, we understand that Jesus was born around 7–4 BC and died 30–36 AD, which was almost 2,000 years ago. He recruited twelve disciples to whom I will now refer to as “mentees” (i.e., people who are advised, trained, or counseled by a mentor). He trained them in His ways to enable them to become “true Christians,” which means “being like Christ.” Their application of His teachings and principles resulted in their having global influence leading up to the establishment of the Christian faith, which continues to shape public discourse and morality today. Those mentees were part of a clear succession plan that trickled down from Jesus to them, as well as to their own mentees and succeeding mentees. To this day, there are millions of mentees with the sole determination of emulating Chief Mentor Jesus.

I also understand that His declared principles were entirely consistent with Jesus’ daily living insofar as He was found to be blameless by many, including Pilate’s court of law. Coupled with Jesus’ ability to forgive are His: visionary leadership that inspired scores of ordinary people around one mission; clear and well-articulated message of justice; higher levels of morality; advocacy for the general enjoyment of fundamental human rights; and a caring heart for the least privileged. No corruption was found in Him. His “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” concept of the taxation system was geared towards justice. He demonstrated servanthood leadership through His daily living and His washing of His mentees’ feet. His superior position did not stop Him from associating with children, criminals, prostitutes, and many of the socially excluded. Inspired by Jesus’ principles, His mentees demonstrated a governance system that created a sharing of privileges from the least to the greatest: The rich submitted their wealth to be shared with the community of believers. Note: The principle here was not communism per se but a system that appreciated the need for social justice.

In the context of capitalist systems — based on the survival of the fittest, conflicts and injustice around the world, repressive regimes, unrestricted violations of fundamental human rights, corrupt systems of governments that seek to enrich the powerful self at the expense of the powerless, power-mongering leaders who have no respect for human life, exploitation of natural resources for the privileged few, and so on — it is clear that Jesus’ significant leadership style is essential for successfully leading the masses from social injustice to a socially just state of existence.

As a result of Jesus’ leadership style and accomplishments, we people of the world can easily be taught how to “mean what we say,” “lead by example,” and “raise leaders who successfully transfer their significant character traits to the next generation of significant leaders.” I am convinced that most so-called significant leaders fail to produce like-kind world leaders. For example, when will we see the next Mandela? Gandhi? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Although their statues and leader-named streets commemorate their historical achievements, I would prefer to see and be inspired by their real-life mentee replacements.

The significance of one’s leadership should be judged not only by one’s ability to amass a sizable following during his or her lifetime, but by him or her being able to demonstrate undisputed consistency between the declaration and application of pronounced principles. The 21st-century world demands significant leadership that is not only strong rhetorically, but leadership that embraces and implements social justice for all, demonstrated personal leadership’s capacity to conquer greed, preside over governments that are beneficial to their people, and create conducive environments that enable members of the general public to reach fullness of their individual and collective potential in the interest of all.

To my fellow South Africans: Although my allegiance favors the policies of the political party that liberated me and the majority of the downtrodden from the shackles of political oppression, I want to encourage you to become influenced when you vote on 7 May 2014 by the leadership qualities exemplified by He who is currently ranked “Number One” on the list of the most significant figures in history. The state of our nation demands not only transcendence of selfish ambitions but a departure from political game playing, which will inevitably lead our government to distributing social privileges fairly along the lines of moral imperatives of justice, not race.

I agree that my request is a difficult one given the context of South Africa; but our aiming “high” should be the standard that we strive to achieve. Please don’t allow your racially biased lenses to cloud your judgment. Instead, look closely at the manifestos while carefully evaluating the organisation’s capacity to implement policies that seek to elevate the least privileged to a place where they can fully enjoy fundamental human rights.

* Skiena, Steven and Charles B. Ward Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Follow me @vwkweyama

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