Finding leaders we respect

I’m often asked by people to name leaders I respect. What follows is my short list. What’s surprising is who is on it – and why. I wonder who makes your list. I offer these names by way of saying that I believe most people who go into leadership do so for good and noble reasons. That’s been my experience. But what happens to these individuals along the way is another story.

People get caught up in their power; they lose sight of their roots and connections; they find themselves overwhelmed by forces acting upon them. They can seem more interested in pursuing their own personal interests, vendettas, and agendas than they are in acting for the public good.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I hold a deepening respect for a growing collection of individuals who are blazing an alternate path – and who might be viewed as strange bedfellows:

  • Lindsey Graham, the conservative Republican U.S. senator from South Carolina, who routinely speaks out on tough issues, even when he is at odds with his party and The White House;
  • Mark Warner, the former Democratic governor of Virginia, who was forthright and civil in his efforts to get various programs funded, balance budgets, and work across the aisle in his divided state;
  • Jay Williams, the relatively new mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, who has made a pledge not to over promise, and who is bringing that community together;
  • Sam Brownback, U.S. senator from Kansas, another conservative Republican, who holds a deep Christian faith, and who pursues it openly while maintaining a deep respect for others;
  • Michael Bloomberg, the Republican mayor of New York City, who has demonstrated that it is possible to govern, make tough choices, and see different issues from different perspectives – and remain firmly defined as a respected and effective political leader.

These leaders seem to march to a different beat. They are at once inwardly focused – understanding and staying true to their values, motivations, and beliefs. They have no problem taking a hit for sticking to their convictions. And yet they are outwardly focused, too – seeking to fulfill their obligations to those they serve. None of this seems to be a public relations game. Rather, these individuals come to their work on deeper, more human terms.

I purposefully left two darlings off my list – at least for now. First, U.S. Senator John McCain: as he makes his White House run, he has found himself zigzagging trying to find his voice and votes. Second is U.S. Senator Barak Obama, who is being pushed and pulled in every direction; only time will tell where he lands.

Tell me who you respect as a leader and why. Let’s compile a list together. And let’s keep growing it. While so many of us decry our leaders, let’s shine a light on those we respect.