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10 Phenomenal Leaders of the Past 25 Years


In organizations across the world, phenomenal leaders are able to attract a following due to their ability to stimulate change, improve their environments and push societal development to the next level. Much of their effectiveness comes from focusing their energy on important tasks that can help develop solutions to advance their organizations and society. Yet, it’s not merely a big-picture perspective that makes a great leader. As the following ten leaders show, a truly phenomenal leader is able to balance their long-term perspective alongside being in the moment and treating teams, projects, and individuals with the attention and respect they deserve.

#1. Steve Jobs: The Rebel Who Changed the World

Steve Jobs started the world-famous Apple technology firm in 1979. After a hiatus from the firm between 1985 and 1997, Jobs returned to lead the company toward global domination. His innovations reinvented how companies conduct business, and today, leaders from all disciplines regard Jobs as a model organizational executive. Much of Jobs’ success as a leader came from his intense belief in his company and his co-workers. Jobs was famous for encouraging employees and vendors to push beyond what they believed to be possible, a strategy that many called a reality distortion field, because what Jobs was requesting often distorted what they believed was possible. For example, when Apple was developing the first iPhone, Steve Jobs was adamant about using glass as opposed to the plastic that most cellular companies were using. The supplier of the glass was at first unsure of being able to support the requested volume Apple and Jobs were seeking in its short time span. However, through Jobs’ “Don’t be afraid – you can do it” attitude, the supplier took on the task and put his best team members on the task to deliver the needed glass to Apple.

#2. Sheryl Sandberg: Giving Others the Freedom to Heal

Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg has led and inspired those around her with her ambition and compassion as she continues to help Facebook develop technologies that allow individuals to connect. Sandberg is also widely acclaimed for the leadership and honesty she exhibits outside of Facebook. Her new manuscript, “Option B,” is a great example of this open leadership. Within the book, Sandberg highlights the grief that came with losing her husband to heart complications. By being so open about a personal tragedy, Sandberg has transformed herself into both a business and public leader, inspiring individuals to open up on sensitive issues and find solace throughout the most unsettling of circumstances.

#3. Jeff Bezos: Bringing Cutting-edge to Consumer Devices

Being the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a leading global corporation is no easy task, yet Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has found success as Amazon continues its steady dominance over a number of industries. One of Bezos’s key leadership traits is his natural drive to experiment and ask, “What if?” This drive has helped Bezos guide Amazon through massive expansion from a simple book retailer to a provider of cutting-edge consumer devices, such as the virtual assistant Alexa. With this new operating system, Bezos is leading the way to create a bold, new digital environment.

#4. Kathy Niakan: Pioneering the Next Stage of DNA Research

Noted in Time Magazine’s list of top 100 influencers, biologist Kathy Niakan’s worked alongside fellow biochemist Emmanuelle Charpentie to build upon the 2001 genome mapping breakthrough. Through this work, Niakan has developed a medical technology called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”), which allows researchers to manipulate DNA sequences. Niakan’s drive to push beyond what is known and understood has made her one of the most prominent leaders of the biologic and medical community. Thanks to Niakan’s leadership and inspiration, biologists discovered cas9 proteins during CRISPR technology development, providing biologists with the ability to target, modify or eliminate specific DNA strands. Once human trials begin, bio-researchers hope the breakthrough will lead to the cure for many illnesses, including cancer.

#5. Reshma Saujani: Closing the Gender Gap in Computer Science

Not willing to accept the current gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) industries as fact, Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code, an organization designed to expose junior and high school teens to computer coding. What makes Saujani such a great leader is her ability to test and push past what is considered industry or societal norms in order to create equal opportunities for all. Saujani has written extensively about this in her book Women Who Don’t Wait in Line: Break the Mold, Lead the Way. As of 2016, Girls Who Code has funneled 400,000 female youths through training and internships and is preparing to award around one million dollars in scholarships in 2017.

#6. Rosie Batty: A Mission Born from Loss

In 2014, Rosie Batty founded the Luke Batty Foundation after losing her child during an unfortunate domestic violence incident. Australian officials have credited her subsequent campaign to end domestic violence as advancing the cause by a decade in a region where 20 percent of all women experience domestic abuse. Batty was so effective in her leadership throughout her campaign that countless domestic violence victims spoke and shared their experiences, placing the topic of domestic violence at the forefront of cultural issues. As CEO of the foundation, Batty continues to lead and campaign against domestic violence, all the while inspiring countless individuals to stand up for their physical, mental and emotional health.

#7. Barack Obama: The First African-American President

Barack Obama was not only the 44th President of the United States, but also the first African-American to take office. Yet Obama is far more of a leader than simply being the first African-American president. Throughout his presidential campaign, Obama led the nation by remaining calm and poised throughout even the most disruptive and emotional of times, including school shootings, acts of terrorism and racism. During these moments, citizens look towards the President, and Obama’s poise provided the assurance and strength others needed in order to handle situations in an effective and appropriate manner.

#8. Pat Summitt: First NCAA Coach to Reach 1,000 Wins

With 1,008 wins and 8 NCAA Championships, Pat Summitt clearly understood how to lead her team on and off the court. Much of Summitt’s success as a leader comes from expecting the best out of her players, noting in her book Sum It Up that she made sure her team practices were demanding so that her program remained at an elite level. Summitt’s influential leadership attracted attention and praise both within the sporting community and outside. Summitt was named Naismith Coach of the Century in 2000 and also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2012. Furthermore, Summitt proved to be an inspirational leader off the court as after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she continued to finish the year out coaching. Leaders from any industry can learn from her can-do attitude, consistency and drive to put her team first.

#9. Bill Gates: A Philanthropic Leader

Bill Gates holds the title for co-founding one of the world’s largest software firms, Microsoft. Yet, Gates drive and selfless attitude has also given him a name as one of the most generous philanthropists of our lifetime. As of 2015, Gates and his wife, Melinda, have gifted over $32 billion dollars to charities and scientific pursuits geared to

bring first world quality of life to third world regions through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With these generous offerings, Gates is a prime example of how a leader can use their status to help others and provide opportunities for those less fortunate. Gates’s donations have inspired other entrepreneurs to also make sizeable donations toward varying causes, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Leaders and citizens alike can learn from Gates’s selfless drive to improve the life of fellow humans, as well as the world itself.

#10. Elon Musk: The Final Frontier

With an unprecedented drive and attention to detail, Elon Musk is not only a leading entrepreneur, but also an inspirational figure for his fearless ability to accomplish difficult goals. Musk’s latest mission is to facilitate mass transit through humanity’s final frontier – space. In an endeavor to prolong humankind’s existence indefinitely, Musk is currently sponsoring private sector probes to Mars through his company Space X. Additionally, Musk is the CEO of Tesla, an automaker company that specializes in electronic cars. Managing two companies is only possible through Musk’s uncanny leadership, which is effective due to his belief that he and his companies will succeed. For example, when a recent Space X launch failed, Musk gave a remarkable speech to his team, transforming a negative situation into an inspirational one.

Moving Forward with Powerful Leadership

Whether it’s Jobs’s ability to convince his team to achieve the unthinkable or Gates’s generosity towards the less fortunate, studying the lives and philosophies of these ten leaders can provide valuable insight for current and future leaders. Yet, one should not feel limited to any of their leadership styles or techniques, for as each show, leadership can be developed and expressed in even the most untraditional of formats. As humanity looks forward to the success of the next great achiever, leaders across all industries should continue putting forth their best effort in their chosen field to make contributions that will continue to shape our future.

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The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs, Harvard Business Review

Sheryl Sandberg leans into her next book, ‘Option B,’ about grieving and healing, Recode

How Jeff Bezos' Unconventional Leadership Style Brought Him to Success, Fortune

Gene editing technique could transform future, BBC News

New research reveals big gender gap in computing workforce, Healthcare IT News

Rosie Batty Takes the Wheel of the Luke Batty Foundation as CEO, Pro Bono Australia

5 Leadership Lessons from Obama, Inc.

Obama Health Care: The Obama Health Care Plan, ObamaCare Facts

Pat’s Story, The Pat Summit Foundation

Elon Musk Announces His Plan to Colonize Mars and Save Humanity, Wired

Changing nature of healthcare leadership demands new vision, empowerment culture, Modern Healthcare

Leadership Lessons From Legendary Basketball Coach Pat Summitt, Forbes

The ‘single ingredient in leadership,’ according to legendary coach Pat Summitt, The Washington Post

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