By Ellen McGirt
April 18, 2019

Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list is out. Although all our lists inspire me, I must confess that this is one of my favorites.

Good leadership is often hard to define. In the abstract, it can feel bogged down in metrics, benchmarks, and execution-speak.

But told through stories, leadership comes alive as a creative calling and a willingness to color outside traditional lines to define purpose in new ways.

Consider the culinary relief efforts of superstar Chef José Andrés, as documented by my colleague Beth Kowitt.

Since 2010, Andrés has been feeding people in need via his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen (WCK), which he founded after volunteering in Haiti in the wake of its 2010 earthquake:

Since Haiti, Andrés and WCK have fed Texas, Florida, and North Carolina after hurricanes; Guatemala and Hawaii after volcanic eruptions; Indonesia post-earthquake and tsunami; federal workers during the U.S. government shutdown; firefighters amid the California wildfires; and Central American refugees in Tijuana. Most recently, Andrés was in Mozambique, which was hit in mid-March by a cyclone, attempting to double the number of daily meals produced by WCK to 20,000 by the time he left. He and his team do not wait for permission to show up. When people are hungry, he says, you must start feeding them today, not tomorrow or a week from now, after you’ve had a dozen meetings and made a plan. “We don’t sit waiting for someone to tell us what to do,” he explains.

My colleague Kristen Bellstrom tackles the new female leadership in Congress, a wave that reflects a broader interest in a new status quo.

Forty-two women won a congressional seat in 2018, far outpacing the previous record of 27 in the 1992 election. It’s a sign, says Bellstrom, that “[t]he American electorate may not be as balkanized as we think. Five of the 13 incoming women of color were elected by majority white districts…more than a third of the Democratic women represent districts won by President Trump.”

They’re not there to assimilate, says Kristen:

The Kelly Slater of the pink wave is, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose progressive Green New Deal and social media mastery have inspired fans and enraged critics in equal measure. While not every newcomer has AOC’s star power, the new members share her refusal to follow the old rule book—the one whose cover is emblazoned: Wait Your Turn.

As always, you’ll find some familiar names.

Bill and Melinda Gates are number one, though this year you’ll find them hip-deep in a renewed fight to hang on to the enormous progress that’s been made in alleviating extreme poverty. It has required delivering difficult feedback to world leaders, while simultaneously trying to find new ways forward. “If Bill’s superpower is speaking truth to the mighty, Melinda’s may well be hearing the truth of the unmighty—and then internalizing and sharing that secret, often brutally repressed wisdom,” writes Fortune’s editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf. “For a generally soft-toned speaker, her voice has the command of a church bell. But those who know her say her truly uncanny talent is simply the ability to listen.”

The are some new or unfamiliar names, too.

At No. 8, you’ll find Anna Nimiriano, the editor-in-chief of the Juba Monitor, an independent newspaper that has been tirelessly documenting life in war-torn South Sudan. If we are to have a bias-free AI future, then the brilliant and charismatic Joy Buolamwini, who joins the list at No. 34, will be part of the reason why.

Even America’s own “Princess” Meghan Markle and her sweet husband get a nod for their willingness to promote causes (feminism and mental health) that haven’t typically met with royal approval.

To me, this year’s list feels like a nod to courage.

The ability to identify a sustainable vision and get a team to execute against it is, of course, an essential leadership skill. But it takes guts to shine a light on life as it is and not as the powerful want it to be seen. Especially now, when the world feels so divided, and the distance between a whimper and a scream feels paper thin.

Please enjoy and share the list. I look forward to seeing your name on it one day. In the meantime, don’t you dare wait your turn.


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