The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders

March 24, 2016, 10:30 AM UTC

Especially striking in our new ranking of the World’s 50 Greatest ­Leaders is how many of them you may not recognize. In our media-saturated, personality-obsessed global culture, how can that be? Yet it is so, and that’s what makes this group so heartening. It turns out the world is full of people you’ve never heard of who are rallying followers to make life better in ways you never imagined. The professor who led the group that uncovered the Flint, Mich., water crisis; the New Delhi government official risking his career to fight pollution; the Italian mayor welcoming Middle East migrants to his tiny town—improving its economy and brightening their prospects. Who knew?

Plenty of other great leaders cited here are rightly famous, and we’ve recognized some in previous editions of the list. This year there are even a few three-peats, including Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos—our new No. 1 (read the fascinating feature article here)—Apple (AAPL) chief Tim Cook, and Pope Francis. Anyone who has been ranked previously must requalify each year with new achievements. As always, we cast a wide net, seeking outstanding leaders in all sectors of society around the world. It isn’t enough to be accomplished, brilliant, or admirable. We recognize those who are inspiring others to act, to follow them on a worthy quest, and who have shown staying power. No mere flashes in the pan, and thus none of the U.S. presidential aspirants, make our list. And no, we didn’t select Donald Trump, the phenomenon of the moment (for more on that, see our Editor’s Desk); many candidates over the decades have ignited flames that flared brightly and then went out if the candidate lost the nomination or the election; others have proved to be little more than demagogues. Simply applying for the world’s top leadership job, as Trump and his rivals are doing now, does not in itself make one a great leader. Nor, as you’ll see, does having that job necessarily put you on our list.

The leaders you’ll meet here, known and new, will lift your mood and upgrade your assessment of the world’s future. Some may inspire you to join their followers. And those unheard-ofs, so seemingly ordinary, may even prompt you to rethink your own potential as an inspiring leader.

The World’s Greatest Leaders list
Angela Merkel and Stephen Curry. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Oliver. Paul Ryan and an Australian marathoner. What do they have in common? They’re playing a leading role in making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same.—by the staff of Fortune

Bezos Prime
As Amazon spreads its hydra-headed offerings in new directions, its founder is also evolving. In a rare interview, Jeff Bezos talks about becoming a “leader of leaders” and about taking on the mantle of civic leadership at the Washington Post.—by Adam Lashinsky

Bono: I Will Follow
The gregarious U2 front man could easily be mistaken for a dilettante celebrity—if it weren’t for the results he delivers. How Bono’s consensus building has helped turn One into one of the world’s most effective forces for poverty alleviation.—by Ellen McGirt

The lead writers for Fortune’s 2016 list of the World’s Greatest Leaders were Jonathan Chew and Claire Groden.

Additional contributors: Kristen Bellstrom, Scott Cendrowski, Geoff Colvin, Scott DeCarlo, Erika Fry, Leigh Gallagher, Stephen Gandel, Matt Heimer, Clifton Leaf, Michal Lev-Ram, Laura Lorenzetti, Tory Newmyer, Brian O’Keefe, Leena Rao, Jeff John Roberts, Geoffrey Smith, Anne VanderMey, Phil Wahba, Claire Zillman

A version of this article appears in the April 1, 2016 issue of Fortune.

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