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.
|HBCU alumni are drowning in student loan debt|
|While we’re lifting every voice and singing on behalf of HBCUs, it would be worth raising an alarm or two as well. A new analysis from the Wall Street Journal has found that HBCU alums carry a student loan debt load that far outpaces grads at other public or nonprofit four-year schools – to the tune of 32%. HBCU alums also have far lower repayment rates. It’s yet another outcome of the racial wealth gap, now exacerbated by tuition increases and onerous borrowing options.|
|Wall Street Journal|
|A Native teen fights to wear his tribal regalia to his high school graduation|
|It’s a common problem. This piece from Splinter News ticks through several high-profile examples of U.S. high schools barring Indigenous students from wearing tribal clothing. So, when Tvli Birdshead, a senior at Latta High School in Ada, Okla. was told he could not wear a beaded cap with an eagle feather and an “honor cord” the Chickasaw Nation gives to grads, it blew up on Native Twitter. He also took the story to the local news. “I’m doing this not just for me, but for any Native student that wants to wear an eagle feather or bead their cap,” Birdshead said. “I see stories like this everywhere, like every year. I never thought I would be the one fighting to wear my regalia.”|
|The St. Louis Zoo hires the first-ever African American woman zoo director|
|Jo-Elle Mogerman, previously the vice president of learning and community at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, is now set to become the director of the new St. Louis Zoo North Campus. She will oversee the development of a new, 425-acre conservation and endangered species breeding center, which promises to be one of the most advanced in the country. Animals will also be provided grazing and natural spaces giving visitors a chance to observe them in humane conditions. Zoo officials believe Mogerman is the first black woman to be named a zoo director in North America. On the off-chance they’ve missed someone, be sure to let me know so we can help them network.|
|St Louis Post-Dispatch|
|On parenthood and Jackie Robinson|
|Exavier B. Pope is a sports and entertainment lawyer, writer, advocate, and licensed yoga instructor, which is a long way of saying that he’s a sharp commentator and good company on social media. In this poignant essay, he talks about speaking on a panel on race and sports on this year’s Jackie Robinson Day, with his impressed 9-year-old son in tow. It turned into an unexpected opportunity to acknowledge the extraordinary role his foster mother played in his life and the power of fatherhood. “For the vast majority my life I have wanted my foster mother to be proud of me. As I surveyed the room delivering my panel perspective…I realized that desire had shifted,” he writes. “I realized ultimately I want my children to be proud of me as their dad and them to be proud of being my children, something I never had.” Much love to future STEM genius, Exavier B. Pope II.|
|Remembering a landmark case of sexual assault|
|DeNeen L. Brown reminds us of an important legal case that took place in 1855, in pre-Civil War Missouri. Young Celia, an enslaved nineteen-year-old, had been enduring years of rape at the hands of Robert Newsom, a Missouri widower in his 70’s, who had enslaved Celia starting from age 14. She’d already been forced to bear two of Newsom’s children and had warned him that the nighttime assaults had to stop. After killing Newsom during an attack, Celia claimed self-defense, which was allowed for women under Missouri law at the time. But was Celia a woman under the law? The State of Missouri vs. Celia, a Slave, tested the notion of whether enslaved people had the same rights as other humans|
|Ferris is finally saved|
|To be woke is to be haunted, this we know. It is to be forced, when you least expect it, to revisit a beloved memory of your already misspent youth and to find it suddenly wanting, utterly unable to meet your new world view. Here’s one tender example: Ferris Bueller. Bueller, any reasonable adult must admit, is an unrelenting asshat who wallows in a toxic form of white, male, suburban privilege which he has had no reason to abandon. Until now. “My name is Ferris Bueller and I’d like to issue a formal apology for my behavior as a former teen role model for white privilege,” begins this as-told-to-by confessional piece from a once unrepentant quasi-sociopath. So brave.|