At a time when the world is thinking a lot about leadership and often noting its absence, we offer some thoughts on what makes a leader.

First, to clarify: A leader isn’t just somebody with a snazzy title or a lofty position. It’s entirely possible for a CEO to be ineffectual, tyrannical, or just plain bad. It’s also entirely possible for a compassionate, insightful receptionist to inspire others to new ways of thinking and new heights of effectiveness. Leadership is something that all of us can all develop in ourselves, regardless of the positions we hold.

A leader is someone who nourishes and evokes the best qualities in people, and creates opportunities for people to bring great ideas together. If we want to create strong, healthy organizations with far-reaching impact, we need effective, ethical, and inspired leadership. We need to foster a culture of shared leadership across the organization. Whether we like it or not, we are interdependent. We need people in a variety of roles—the CEO’s, the product designers, and the customer service people; the teachers, students, janitors, and principals; the receptionists and the physicians—to evoke the best in each other and contribute toward a shared vision.

In our view, these are the building blocks for ethical, effective, and inspiring leadership:
Collaboration and trust: Working together, valuing and leveraging the diverse strengths that people bring to the table, and creating an environment of mutual trust and respect.

Curiosity and discernment: Inviting different perspectives, evaluating innovative approaches, and being alert to opportunities.

Courage: Leading from the heart and the head, with an inner strength to face difficulty with grace.

Calculated risk: Making the bold choice that will probably lead to success, might lead to failure, and will always lead to learning.

Self-awareness: Knowing our strengths, recognizing our weaknesses, and acknowledging that we have blind spots.

Appreciative inquiry: Building on strengths by asking questions in a way that allows us to discover and access untapped potential.

Compassionate accountability: Answering to ourselves and each other about our actions and commitments, and doing so from a place of compassion.


Systems awareness: Understanding how the parts fit together, and how today’s actions affect tomorrow’s outcomes.

Authentic concern: Caring about people, the bottom line, the community, and the planet; about intention as well as impact; about this year and next century.

Focus on results: If we’re aiming to make a difference, results matter, and we aim to achieve them ethically.

Vision and pragmatism: Co-creating previously unimaginable possibilities for the future. Then, starting where we are, cheerfully juggling multiple, competing short-term demands while keeping one eye firmly fixed on the long-range vision and goals.

So let’s get going!