Inspirational People

Top 20 Leadership Traits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Founder of the Turkish Republic)

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Who is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk? And what did he achieve?

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the founder and the first president of the Republic of Turkey.

His name Ataturk which means the father of the Turks, was granted to him by the government. He served as the president of Turkey from 1923 until he died in 1938.

Ataturk was born in 1881 in a town called Salonika that is now called Thessaloniki. Salonika was a part of the Ottoman Empire when Ataturk was born.

In 1893, at the age of 12, Ataturk joined Rüşdiye, an imperial military school of the Ottoman Empire.

He then advanced to the Ottoman Military College situated in Istanbul, where he graduated in 1905 as a senior grade lieutenant.

In the year 1911, Ataturk served at the Battle of Tripoli to fight against the Italians who were on a mission to conquer Libya.

In 1912, he contributed to the Balkan wars, which ended in 1913 and was one of fifteen significant events which lead to World War I.

In 1914, Ataturk got promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Turkish passport of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

How did Ataturk rise to power?

In the year 1914, Mustafa Kemal got entrusted with the responsibility of commanding and organising the 19th infantry division at the front-line of the Battle of Gallipoli.

Ataturk became a national hero and solidified his reputation in 1915, during the Battle of Gallipoli, when he anticipated the position where the Allies of World War I would attack.

As a result of his intuitiveness, he went against military commands and triumphantly rebelled against the Dardanelles attack.

Until the year 1916, he served at Edirne.

In 1917, he was promoted to an overall commanding officer of the second army after he declined to establish a new command.

In the same year, he replaced Fevzi Pasha and became the German general.

The last service that Ataturk offered at the Ottoman troop was ensuring that the Ottoman army returned to Turkey when they were left out in the south.

In 1919, Mustafa Kemal resigned from the Ottoman army and returned to the Ottoman Empire.

In the same year of 1919, Ataturk led a nationalist revolution that took place in Anatolia.

The Revolution was organised to resist settlement by the Entente Powers.

The Entente Powers intended to seize Smyrna.

Ataturk secured an Amendment of the peace agreement when he gained victory over the Greeks.

Later, in 1921, Mustafa Kemal came up with a provisional government in Ankara.

In 1922, The Ottoman Empire got abolished.

In 1923, Colonel Mustafa Kemal’s leadership led to Turkey becoming a republic.

Why is Atatürk so important? 

Mustafa Kemal became the first president of Turkey. He founded a party regime which was free from conflict until the year 1945.

On March 24, 1923, ‘Mustapha’ Kemal Ataturk featured on the front page of TIME Magazine.

Mustafa Kemal Pasha on the front page of Time Magazine

In 1925, Ataturk gave a speech where he said that the people of Turkey are democratic and that the people of the United States of America are their allies.

In the video, available below, Ataturk stated that “Turkish people have a deep and powerful fondness for American people” and should “keep the world at peace through a mutual alliance”.

He noted that he was confident the US felt the same way.

There is some probability Ataturk drew inspiration from George Washington. From Ataturk’s days as a teen studying the wars of America’s Founding Father at military school to his adult days when he became the Turkish equivalent.

Both America and Turkey shared a mutual antagonist during their wars of independence, namely the British Empire.

As the president of Turkey, Ataturk established a political and social re-organisation of his nation.

These reforms included the elimination of the Islamic institutes, the introduction of Latin scripts, and the liberation of women. He also established strong relations with neighbouring states.

On the 10th of November 1938, he died from Liver Cirrhosis. There are also widespread, yet unproven, conspiracy theories that his foreign doctors poisoned Atatürk.

20 Essential Leadership Traits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

1) Atatürk the broad thinker:

Ataturk was a skilful military and political leader.

His broad thinking is evident from some of his accomplishments in the military, like anticipating the position where his enemies would attack.

Ataturk also got entrusted with challenging assignments where he performed well, getting many promotions as a result.

Being the first president of Turkey during a period of significant transformation required him to be a critical leader.

In 1919, he launched a revolutionary defensive war against antagonistic empires, even though the Ottoman Sultan opposed it.

Ataturk the broad thinker

2) Atatürk the outstanding communicator:

When making important decisions, he consulted other leaders.

Ataturk successfully shared his religious beliefs, goals, and amendments with his followers.

For instance, when making decisions about religious reforms, he even had a meeting with some of the most influential spiritual leaders of the time. Furthermore, he got them all to agree on national unity regardless of the new establishment’s policies at the Râşid Efendi Manuscript Library.

In case Hoca Rasit needed more persuasion, General Fevzi, who had strong Islamic stands, was referred to him.

More so, Ataturk reached other soldiers, villagers, artisans and ordinary people.

Ataturk communicating in public

3) Atatürk the charming persuader:

Ataturk was able to convince his followers and his close friends to support him in achieving his objectives.

He established a new and revolutionised Turkey by convincing her people.

He strategically shared how implementing reforms would make the nation better than before.

He could create hope, confidence, and courage so that his followers could fight alongside him, even if some of them opposed his ideas.

Through his power of convincing people, Ataturk was able to achieve what most people thought was impossible.

Ataturk persuasion

4) Atatürk the steady force:

Ataturk convinced people that culture and civilisation were synonymous.

He was able to counter Ziya Gokalp who was a Turkish ideologist on nationalism.

Gokalp believed that there was a distinction between culture, which he thought was born out of religion, and civilisation, which he felt was a product of a global universal science.

Mustafa Kemal insisted that his friends should modernise their lavatories and the waiters should get trained in a modern way.

Mustafa Kemal derived his assertive nature from his mother and military school.

Ataturk powerful force

5) Atatürk the open-minded learner:

Ataturk believed that acquiring knowledge was the main recipe for survival.

His past influenced his thinking. He invested a lot in knowledge, to remedy the shortage of skills and information in his country at the time.

He valued civilisation a great deal and the only way Turkey could survive its process was through acquiring knowledge.

Ataturk could acquire merchants and professionals who were able to run the republic as it found its way to modernisation.

He also believed that civilisation would drive away what he referred to as a “dark cloud of general ignorance.”

Ataturk reading foreign books

6) Atatürk the transformational leader:

Ataturk believed in change.

He changed the Arabic alphabet to Latin in Turkey. This new change forced the people of Turkey to learn a new language.

He also declared that Turkey was a state separate from the Muslim religion. He closed Islamic institutes, allowed alcohol and granted prayer to be in the Turkish language instead of Arabic.

Also, he allowed women to wear dresses or jeans and access education, which was not allowed before his leadership.

By changing a remnant of the Ottoman Empire to a secular republic, he also acted as a transformational leader.

Ataturk liberating the women of Turkey

7) Atatürk the consistent performer:

One could observe Ataturk’s steady nature through the endless energy he committed into his career.

He consistently fought against political forces that led to the crumbling of the empire.

He also worked tirelessly in all assignments entrusted to him.

As a result, Ataturk served successfully in every chain of command, operation and defensive battle assigned to him.

Winston Churchill also referred to him as “a Man of Destiny.”

Looking back at WWI in Gallipoli, Churchill said:

“I am feeling the defeat in my whole veins right now. I am very upset. I was quite happy and hopeful. Up until yesterday, I was saying ‘Dardanelles is ours’. Because to win this war; military, finance, ammunition, I took everything into account. We were much superior in all of them. We were certainly going to prevail. Only we did not take one thing into account, Mustafa Kemal Pasha. If I did not have British pride in my bosom, I would want to applaud the Turks and give them a standing ovation.”

And King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom kissed his hand.

King Edward VIII kissing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's hand

8) Atatürk the game-changer:

One of Mustafa Kemal’s main accomplishments that enabled Turkey to exist as a nation was the formation of a non-expansionist force.

He aimed to defend Turkish lands from the aggression of simultaneous attacks on multiple-fronts from Entente Powers. These attacks came from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Greece, France, and Russia, to name a few, and yet he still succeeded.

In 1919, the Ottoman government issued a death penalty in absentia to Ataturk because he released the Amasya Circular, which put the Turkish War of Independence into effect.

Yet Ataturk succeeded against the odds, replacing the strongest partition of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, being divided by colonial forces before his eyes, with a Turkish republic.

This breakthrough required him to face many oppositions plus change many rules & regulations that were stringent in legal, economic, political, social and cultural fields.

If Ataturk did not have the trait of a game-changer, and if his Bolshevik allies did not start the Russian Civil War (inspired by their German friends), Turkey would not have existed as a republic.

Mustafa Kemal Pasa

9) Atatürk the swift decision-maker:

Ataturk faced many critics in his time, and because of this, he adopted an executive form of military leadership.

The chances are that he could not be successful if he were slow at decision-making.

This type of leadership style allowed Ataturk to make fast decisions as well as implement measures immediately and determinedly.

Many adverse conditions existed in Turkey, and therefore, he was a quick thinker who knew that there was little or no time for compromise building.

Ataturk making fast decisions

10) Atatürk the loyal associate:

Ataturk trusted and cherished his associates.

His close friends respected and were outright loyal to him in every significant step of his life.

Some of them included Fevzi Cakmak, who was the Chief of Staff, Ismet Inonu, who was the Prime Minister, and Kâzım Fikri Özalp, who was the Minister of Defence.

These friends supported his leadership ideologies, while Ataturk supported them and carried out common ideals so that they could realise their potential.

For every leader in a business or a political forum to succeed, they must have close associates who support them in their endeavours.

Ataturk's loyalty

11) Atatürk the creative visionary:

Ataturk had extraordinary objectives for his people and his country.

He believed in something greater than himself.

Throughout his life, he was a results-oriented person who had ambitions of enabling his country to reach the highest level of modernisation.

Not only was he smart, but also determined, reformist, fearless, and curious.

In the late Ottoman period, when his empire was deteriorating, he had the goal of revolutionising his renewed country and making it great.

His vision was to ensure a modern and secular Turkish republic, which became a reality as a result of his visionary insight.

It is not common knowledge that in 1905 Abdul Hamid II’s regime put Mustafa Kemal into prison for around three months.

His friend Ali Fuat Cebesoy, and two other co-conspirators were alongside him during this experience of jail-time and investigations.

According to data from Turkey’s National Presidential Archives located in Ankara, the reason for Ataturk’s incarceration was due to being the founding director of a secret newspaper which spread the vision of an Independent Turkey, from as early as 1904.

Ataturk's visionary thinking

12) Atatürk the giving altruist:

Throughout his reign, Ataturk worked for the good of the country and its people.

He worked unselfishly for his dreams and was able to accomplish most of them at a tender age.

Most people and his followers gained from his achievements.

By changing Arabic alphabets to Latin letters, he enabled the people to become literate more quickly.

As a result, more people became well educated during his reign.

He also made a profound impact by implementing westernised legal systems like commerce codes, civil codes and new legislation.

Ataturk teaching the new Turkish alphabet to people

13) Atatürk the symbol of liberty:

Ataturk fought tirelessly against the Entente Powers and affiliated armies, who were on a mission to colonise his motherland and split the spoils between each other.

More so, he enacted laws that were free from gender discrimination, opening the way for women to hold positions of power in all sectors of society, including the government, business, and military.

This gender-equality initiative led to thousands of courageous women including Fatma Seher Erden, Şerife Bacı, Hafız Selman İzbeli, and Tayyar Rahmiye, amongst others, to contribute as military leaders during the Turkish War of Independence.

The equality laws brought forth by Ataturk allowed women to get an education as well as dress freely.

More so, Ataturk ensured that women had equal rights with those of men across every facet of society.

Women were also allowed to end divorce at their discretion.

He believed in modernisation, which made Turkey free from stringent rules.

Ataturk and freedom

14) Atatürk the peace-maker:

Ataturk adopted the policy of having peace at home and peace in the world.

Additionally, he inspired other leaders who were in other Muslim countries.

In his reign, he established relations with the neighbouring nations to ensure there was harmony amongst them.

More so, he had an enemy, Eleftherios Venizelos, who later became his ally and nominated him for the Nobel Peace award.

He was rational in his decisions and did not take sides at any given moment.

He clearly stated that he believed in a supreme-being but did not have a religion.

Ataturk and King Edward, Istanbul 1936

15) Atatürk the courageous guide:

One could observe Ataturk’s courage from his fights in battle.

He led the Gallipoli campaign. He was always at the front-line wheeling guns, sending his troops to battles which they had little chance of surviving.

To achieve independence, Ataturk fought with his army to achieve victory.

More so, he also declined to change his army when he was the commander.

He relocated his division to Conkbayiri despite having no approval from the headquarters, which led to military success and his promotion.

Ataturk at the frontlines during the Battle of Gallipoli in WWI

16) Atatürk the wise overseer:

Not every decision made by Mustafa Kemal was for his gain but the sake of Turkey.

He was also strict and loyal to his virtues.

Some of the ideas that motivated him included developing Turkey as a national power and transforming it into a westernised country.

New ideas included achieving a good standard of living for her people and moving towards a liberal political and economic status.

More so, he was not distracted by the lost provinces of The Ottoman Empire in Europe and Asia.

Ataturk sitting in his library, thinking about his next leadership move

17) Atatürk the unshakeable believer:

Ataturk described himself as a successful person in his speeches.

He was also determined to ensure that Turkey got her independence when Ataturk came up with a war strategy that balanced military and political aspects in alignment with changing situations.

He created a national assembly and gained nationwide support for fighting for independence.

Despite unfavourable circumstances, he fought for freedom against five established nations simultaneously without being distracted by political or resource limitations and came out victorious.

Ataturk with his daughter

18) Atatürk the rational polymath:

Well-grounded logic and generous patronage were rare traits at the time.

Ataturk’s wise and philanthropic attitude was rare. He could decide from a rational point of view instead of a religious point of view. However, he appreciated the differences that other people had.

Some of his close companions like Ahmet Izzet and Ismet Inonu were confirmed, religious people.

More so, his friends carried a Quran everywhere they went. However, Mustafa Kemal ensured that religion did not get in the way of Turkey’s development.

Ataturk taking notes

19) Atatürk the calculated strategist:

Ataturk outlined clear rules that would govern his nation.

Some of the just, upright and free principles that guided his leadership included a declaration of the public, abolishing of the caliphate, wearing hats, and eliminating the ministry in charge of religious activities.

In terms of organisation, he set out both theoretical and practical rules and regulations.

More so, he stated that no opposition could ever affect the fate of the Turkish Republic.

Other principles included the building of infrastructures such as railways, unifying production, modifying the tax of agriculture products, and much more.

Ataturk the strategist

20) Atatürk the enlightened adapter:

Ataturk’s flexibility could be observed from when he tried to consult his fellow leaders on some reforms.

He did not assume a despot kind of leadership, but a friendly attitude with an open mind towards the notions provided by clear resistance.

As the Turkish war of independence went on, Ataturk supported his troops and encouraged them to win.

He also promoted a way of modernisation in his country that called for everyone to leave their old ways and be more flexible.

If you enjoyed this story on Ataturk, share, retweet and comment on social media about this biography, please.

About the author

Derin Cag

Derin Cag

Founder of Richtopia