Unlike some of our other rankings projects—Best Colleges and Best Hospitals, for example—there are no hard numbers to crank into a leadership formula. But even if the outcome lacks precision, we think the undertaking is equally valuable. Leadership is essential to a successful society. And it must come in many fields and at various levels. Most recently, we've all been obsessed with the election of a leader in chief, a seminal event, no doubt, but one that can also tend to obscure the important work that is being done by other remarkable people in unglamorous places like classrooms and medical labs. No president is going to solve all our problems. The strength of America is in the breadth of leaders that we've been able to produce over many years. Yet the onslaught of everyday news coverage rarely lends itself to scrutinizing the kinds of successes that are happening in areas such as science, medicine, the arts, the military, business, and education. We think it's appropriate to acknowledge that work once in a while.
So, for the fourth year, we've partnered with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. David Gergen, our editor at large and the director of the center, has assembled a fascinating group of judges, many of them successful leaders themselves. They worked hard to review a diverse pool of candidates—some famous, some relatively unknown. They then applied some hard-nosed standards—we place a big emphasis on results, for instance—to reach a consensus. You can see criteria the judges used and the results of their deliberations in "How America's Best Leaders Were Picked."
Equally important are the stories that accompany the selections. A core trait of leadership is the ability to influence others—"the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it," in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower. We hope that by telling these stories we might offer some helpful case studies to leaders of the future.
I'd like to know what you think of our list of best leaders. Do they fit your definition of a leader? Whom do you think we missed? And beyond these individuals, do you think America has a crisis of leadership? If so, what can we do about it?
As always, you can E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or join the online discussion at below.