As the last hours of 2014 slip away, I find myself musing about all those leaders just “below the fold,” as they used to say back in the heyday of print broadsheet newspapers. Who are some of those non-headline leaders from all walks of life and geographies who are making a difference as they (in the parlance of this column) have demonstrated “capability, reliability and authenticity”?
We spend inordinate amounts of time complaining about our leaders and how they disappoint. Headlines blare every day about political figures unable to solve our problems; about industry leaders unwilling to think beyond the next earnings statement; about some athlete who has abused the fair play principles of competitive sports; about the fall from grace of a newsmaker guilty of shocking behavior. Perhaps there are no more lapses of confidence in our leaders today than has been the case throughout history. But the sun never sets on our leaders, subject as they are to constant scrutiny under today’s klieg lights emitted from larger-than-life TV screens, computer monitors and PDAs.
But maybe we have not looked long or hard enough to find the real leaders right under our gaze. We all know intuitively that none of our institutions would be working at all if there weren’t committed, capable, reliable and authentic leaders delivering on their promises day in and out, and adding value to the lives of the people they serve. We also know the difference a respected leader can make in inspiring broader support for noble humanitarian, peacekeeping, or governmental missions.
To help identify some of these under- or un-sung leaders, I asked my colleagues to join in this “Where’s Waldo” process, urging them to help me come up with the following list of five arguably under-appreciated leaders with the right stuff—capability, reliability, authenticity.
1- Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala—The first woman Finance Minister of Nigeria, the world’s seventh largest country, Okonjo-Iweala has courageously taken on the nation’s endemic corruption, helping to refurbish Nigeria’s image and economic prospects.
2- Pietro Parolin—Pope Francis’s right-hand man, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin has been critical to many of the most significant initiatives which have begun to change in fundamental ways one of the world’s oldest (and most change-resistant) institutions.
3- Arati Prabhakar—The Indian-born engineer has used her platform as director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to speak out on the need to be vigilant about technology’s double edge, taking seriously the agency’s founding mission to create and invest in breakthrough technologies that protect U.S. national security.
4- HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein—The brother of Jordan’s King, Prince Feisal has been a dogged and indefatigable advocate of peace building and development in this troubled region, especially through sport, as the founder of the non-governmental organization Generations for Peace.
5- Felipe Calderon—Former president of Mexico committed to the rule of law, he has turned his energies and influence to addressing climate change issues by assuming the chairmanship of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.
So, public cynicism in our leaders notwithstanding, followers the world over instinctively recognize and appreciate real leadership when it emerges, not blinded by ideology, age or religion. I urge readers to join me in this process by posting the names of those you believe meet the “capability, reliability and authenticity” test and perhaps have been flying under radar. In so doing, hopefully we will not only help generate confidence in the cadre of real leaders we have, but also generate clarity about the kind of leaders we need. More capable, committed, courageous leaders will help usher in a new year filled with the kind of peace and prosperity we all wish for in this season of hope.