Special Report

50 Most Powerful Leaders of All Time

Detailed Findings

Researchers who have looked into the notion of power have determined that those who possess it are more oblivious to what others think, are poorer judges of other people’s reactions, and are more likely to take risks.

Other research indicates that power accentuates the behavior of those who have it. Those who are naturally selfish grow more so when they attain power, while those who are selfless and giving become even more so with greater power.

Many of the leaders on the list are among the most well-known, and infamous, figures in history: Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, and Attila the Hun. They translated power into conquest and destruction, forging vast empires and altering the historical destiny of nations for generations. These leaders had a vision for the future, and they had the resolve to try and carry it out.

Some of the people on this list are not as recognizable, but, nevertheless, they made an indelible imprint on their civilizations. In the third century BC, the vast empire of Ashoka the Great included parts of India, South Asia, and present-day Afghanistan and Iran.

Three of the powerful women on the list are from England: Queens Victoria and Elizabeth I and Margaret Thatcher. Other recognizable women on our list are Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, and Queen Isabella. One woman’s name you may not know is Hatshepsut, an ancient leader of Egypt. Hundreds of years before Cleopatra held sway over Egypt, Hatshepsut was supervising massive building projects.

Not all of the powerful leaders on our list used military means to realize their ambitions. Martin Luther King Jr. never held elected office, but his commitment to achieving civil rights as well as his charismatic personality created a powerful movement for justice and equality in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. King drew inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi, who emphasized nonviolent tactics that helped liberate India from British colonialism.


24/7 Wall St. used research materials and historical rankings of historical figures to help determine the list of the most powerful leaders of all time. An argument can be made that every American president since 1945, as well as every leader from the former Soviet Union since the end of World War II, should be on the list. Some of those men do appear on the list. But in the interest of diversity and the understanding that power is relative to the era in which it is exercised, we have included leaders from the distant past as well as those not in government, such as religious, inspirational, and civil rights figures.