What is common to all of these leaders is a foundation of universal values such as; equality, freedom, justice, respect for life; and the willingness to take action in support of these values. They are without doubt honourable leaders.
My question to you is this: Are you an honourable leader who courageously acts on your ideals?
If so, are you up for the challenge? And if not, where should you start?
The most basic foundation of character, and the first test for an honourable leader, is a deep sense of honour for yourself. Integrity is an alignment between what you believe, what you say and what you do. In other words - you can't fake it. A requirement of integrity therefore is to know what your beliefs are and I would add - what your purpose in life is.
Step one then, in becoming an Honourable Leader is to take the time to clarify your values, beliefs and, in a general sense, what your life purpose is.
Before being put in jail Nelson Mandela was the leader of the youth ANC and was trained in guerrilla warfare. He established the Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the militant wing of the ANC and if not for being captured he may well have been remembered for other things.
Clearly the opportunity to reflect on what was most important in life caused Mandela to change his views and 27 years later he emerged from jail and is to this day hailed as the man who saved South Africa from a bloody uprising.
So do you know what you believe in? And, most importantly, are you willing to act on it?
A value isn't a value unless you are willing to pay a price to uphold it. As Martin Luther King Jr said:"I submit to you that if a man hasn't found something that he is set to die for then he isn't fit to live."
An honourable leader knows what they believe in and isn't afraid to go against the majority to take a stand. Intrinsic values - such as freedom, justice and equality have value in themselves not just for what they create as an end result. Truly honourable leaders know this and also know that the significance of events and their role in the final outcome will not be given its meaning until much time has passed.
Muhammad Ali stood up for his religious beliefs and in doing so paid the considerable price of being banned from boxing. At the time Ali was vilified but with the passing of time his stand was put into a different context and to this day he is hailed worldwide as a hero.
With a deep sense of self honour in place the second test for an honourable leader is to honour other beings. Mahatma Ghandi extolled his followers to embrace a path of peaceful resistance even when they were being beaten with batons.
Everyone has a right to their own beliefs and having honour for others is about being willing to listen to and respect those beliefs even if they disagree with yours. In conflict the honourable leader does not lose faith in others nor waver from upholding higher ideals.
What others see as your values are your actions. As noted above, words are meaningless without action to support them. You cannot preach peace and then make war. A child growing up in Afghanistan today is much more likely to associate Americans with guns, violence and war rather than with peace. The honourable leader accepts that we are all in this together. That there is a thread of interconnectedness that ties us as one. As the world becomes smaller through technology we have an increasing number of opportunities to link together and hold a higher ground defined by freedom, equality and honour.
So, how do you treat others ? Do you have empathy and compassion? Do you listen to others viewpoints? Do you consider all beings - not just other humans - when you are acting?
The third test of honour concerns the Earth. We cannot deny that we live in a closed system. Irrespective of who wins the scientific debate about whether man's actions are making the planet warmer or not, the simple reality is that we are destroying the earth in so many different ways. Clearly, our economic system is flawed when it comes to placing a value on the Earth. But this doesn't mean it is ok to exploit it. Honour for the Earth means minimising the impact of our actions on the Earth and where possible contributing to the improvement of the Earth through reforestation and clean up programs.
We have the technology to reduce our environmental impact now. Why are we waiting for our so called leaders to come to a global agreement on carbon emissions? The Copenhagen summit showed that the leading players are well and truly tied down by lobby groups and vested self interest.
It's time to stop waiting and act. We can act through the way that we interact with the Global Financial system. Be clear about the environmental impact of the goods and services you buy. Invest using environmental and social criteria. And above all, don't work for organisations that are out of alignment with your values.
When in doubt about any of this - ask.
The fourth and final test of honour involves the unseen or spiritual aspect of life.
As Quantum Physics is now confirming - there is more to life than meets the eye. Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto has shown that the power of our intentions is enough to affect the structure of water crystals. Other studies have shown the power of the mind to influence random event generators and how we can sense when we are being stared at. A quantum field links us all together.
An honourable leader recognises the unseen nature of the universe and the power of the mind to influence this. A cultivation of higher ideals in our minds is the fourth essential aspect of honour.
Are you holding space for higher ideals and defining the tone of your environment rather than just reacting to what others do?
So what then should you as an honourable leader fight for?
The one thing that links Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr et al together is their willingness to stand up for a cause and a higher ideal - freedom from oppression, civil rights, religious freedom, abolishment of slavery.
In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and the failure of our institutions to address the structural inequalities in our economic system I believe the time has come for the honourable leaders in all of us to stand up and be counted.
Reject the fear and greed based system that makes us all competitors. Reject the scientific squabbling over who is right or wrong about global warming. Reject the fear mongering of those with vested interests in war and the willingness of the same people to end human lives.
Step up and embrace a future based on higher ideals. Take time out to work out what you really do believe in. Think about what you really are doing here before it's all too late. Consider the interconnected nature of all of us. Use your leverage when interacting with the financial system. And above all honour the unseen aspects of life and the divine nature in all of us. For the deeper meaning of our lives will not become clear until it is too late to change it.
A.C. Ping is a reformed futures trader and ‘greed is good' capitalist who now runs leadership and self mastery programs for people who wish to change the world. His books ‘BE', ‘DO' and ‘FAITH' have been translated into 11 languages and are published around the world.