Who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?
This week’s On Leadership showcases more answers to last week’s question. To cast your vote for 2010’s best leader, go to washingtonpost.com/leadership.
On Dec. 16, Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower of the VietnamWar era who released the Pentagon Papers, was arrested along with 131 people in front of the White House. A majority were Veterans for Peace who were protesting U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2010, the United States spent $65.4 billion on the Iraq war. Afghanistan, which is the longest war in U.S. history, is costing a bigger chunk, at $72.9 billion.
Veterans for Peace and Daniel Ellsberg should be this year’s person of the year because of their courage and bravery to stand up for all of us who believe that “war is not the answer.” Moreover, in a time of economic recession, the war machine is bankrupting our country.
If we believe that war is not the answer in 2011, let’s join those who are standing up for peace. After all, Ellsberg has been steadfast for almost half a century. The leader I believe has achieved the most against strong resistance: President Obama. He, more than anyone, has guided, pushed and often persuaded skeptical and independent legislators to craft laws that move America forward. The press generally writes or talks about Obama’s leadership in terms of winning and losing, political victories or defeats. Historians will doubtless report these scores, but they will evaluate Obama in terms of how well he served the American people.
I nominate all the leaders — executives, managers, supervisors, team leaders — who fly under the
radar. You know the ones I mean. Their staffs, team members and employees rave about them: “I’ve never worked harder; I’ve never been happier,” “ I think she has us hypnotized,” “He makes us feel like a crucial part of the success of the organization.” (All actual comments from people I’ve interviewed.)
And the reason that these leaders are unknown and unrecognized (except by the fortunate people who work with them) is that they don’t seek the spotlight, they don’t give interviews and they don’t take credit. All they do is embody the essence of leadership. They inspire, support, respect and genuinely like the people they lead.
This year, we should change our very definition of leadership to one better suited to our new world: “distributed leadership” — multiple leaders working together across boundaries to mobilize others to create and reach their goals. These leaders can be formal or informal, high up or low down, permanent or temporary.
Take 2010: the year the earth declared war. Hundreds of thousands of people died due to earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, heat waves, blizzards, typhoons and droughts. This was the costliest war on the planet.
In Haiti and Pakistan, whole cities were destroyed, and aid from the outside world could not get in very quickly. In such circumstances, there was little that one leader could do. However, many leaders stepped in. These were the people on the ground, many of whom had to deal with their own personal traumas, who made things happen. There were those who helped people trapped under rubble. Those who helped organize others to find water, set up shelters and care for new orphans. Those who set up supply lines and worked to get the sick to makeshift “ hospitals” that people were building with whatever materials they could find. And later, people came to think about what new cities might look like and how life could go on.
What makes these people leaders? They provide visions for what the world might look like after the crisis is over. They offer hope. They sense what is needed now. We do not know their names, but together these leaders are the ones who have done the most. Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke basketball coach. It is not the records he has amassed but the values he has promoted. He knows his roots, and he has strong values. He has brought great distinction to Duke University. And in 30 years of coaching there, he has directed a program never questioned for recruiting infractions or bringing in players who only want a venue and not an education.
I’d nominate Bill Clinton. He took on Haiti when he didn’t need to and has been called in to help President Obama sell his economic agenda. He has shown a willingness to take on the tough issues despite their unpopularity.
Carol Kinsey Goman is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker.
Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst.
Peter Hart is chairman of Hart Research, a company that conducts public opinion polling for NBC/Wall Street Journal.
Robert J. Goodwin is co-founder of Executives Without Borders.
Juana Bordas is president of Mestiza Leadership International.
Deborah Ancona is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.