There is no dearth of books on leadership. The topic captivates attention and inspires thoughts of self-aggrandizement as much as commitments to self-sacrifice. So many of us are seeking either the definitive formula to apply to our own circumstances or the iconic human to emulate. Yet deep in our psyches, we know that human behavior would be difficult to reduce to a formula, and examples of great leaders are hard to copy while preserving the same effect that induced others to call them great in the first place.

And were those designated leaders really so great? What was so special about Catherine or Alexander, for example? Each wears the moniker of “great” in history books. Were their respective distinctions matters of circumstance, ...

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