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“America’s Best Leaders 2005” Report Published

Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership, U.S. News & World Report magazine, and public opinion research firm Yankelovich have combined to produce “America’s Best Leaders 2005,” an ambitious assemblage of profiles and essays published in the latest issue of U.S. News.

“America’s Best Leaders 2005” purports to explore the “critical elements of leading in the 21st century,” while honoring 25 individuals who are “making a lasting impact.”

Convened and organized by CPL director and U.S. News editor David Gergen, a nonpartisan selection committee chose the leaders from four fields — nonprofit, private sector, public service, and “emerging leader” — based on four areas of leadership criteria: measurable and significant success within the past five years; identifiable change that is positive, enduring, and serves the common good; positive core values such as integrity, trustworthiness, transparency, competence, and creativity that are demonstrably aligned with action; and the commitment and ability to develop other leaders.

In the interest of committee harmony, quite significant exclusions from the eligibility list were the president, past presidents, and likely future presidential contenders – a move somewhat akin to excluding major leaguers from a list of the best baseball players in the country.

Nonetheless, the committee’s selections for “America’s Best Leaders 2005” (click for profiles) is an interesting and varied lot including household names and those leading in relative obscurity:

-Roger Ailes — Chairman and CEO, Fox News; (New York, NY)
-Geoffrey Canada — President and CEO, Harlem’s Children Zone, a nonprofit organization which aims to enhance the quality of life for children; (New York, NY)
-Francis Collins and Craig Venter — Directors, National Human Genome Research Institute; (Washington, DC)
-Bill Drayton — Founder, CEO and Chair, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, an organization that supports emerging social entrepreneurs; (Washington, DC)
-Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim — Founders, Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that supports health projects in poor communities; (Boston, MA)
-Shirley Franklin — Mayor, Atlanta; (Atlanta, GA)
-Thomas Friedman — Journalist and Columnist, The New York Times; (New York, NY)
-Bill & Melinda Gates — Founders, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; (Seattle, WA)
-Steve Jobs — Co-Founder and CEO, Apple Computer, Inc. and Pixar, Inc.; (San Francisco, CA)
-Brian Lamb — Founder and CEO, C-SPAN; (Washington, DC)
-Larry Page and Sergey Brin — Co-Founders, Google, Inc.; (San Francisco, CA)
-David Petraeus — Commander, Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq; (Washington, DC)
-Colin Powell — Former United States Secretary of State; (Washington, DC)
-Condoleezza Rice — United States Secretary of State and former National Security Advisor; (Washington, DC)
-Howard Schultz — Chairman and Chief Global Strategist, Starbucks Corporation; (Seattle, WA)
-Donna Shalala — President, University of Miami and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; (Miami, FL)
-Bill Shore — Founder and Executive Director, Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit that organizes individuals and businesses to share their strengths to end hunger; (Washington, DC)
-Antonio Villaraigosa — Mayor, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)
-Rick Warren — Pastor, Saddleback Church and Author, The Purpose Driven Life; (Lake Forest, CA)
-Margaret Whitman — CEO, eBay, Inc.; (San Jose, CA)
-Oprah Winfrey — Chairman, HARPO Inc. and Host of ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show;’ (Chicago, IL)

Gergen eloquently stakes out the importance of leadership in America today. “As we opened this new century, Americans stood as the most powerful people since ancient Rome,” he writes. “Peace and rising prosperity were within our grasp; globalization and technology offered grand vistas. But recent years have brought sharp reversals. Now we worry that caldrons of terrorism are boiling over, that our culture is declining, that our politics are dysfunctional, that our best jobs may disappear to China and India. ‘Perhaps no form of government needs great leaders so much as democracy,’ Lord Bryce observed. Nowhere is that more true than in America today.”

As part of the report, U.S. News and the Center for Public Leadership commissioned Yakelovich division TSC to conduct a national survey to determine how the public feels about leadership. The study found that the vast majority of Americans (73%) believe that their leaders are out of touch with the average person and nearly three quarters (72%) believe that unless the country’s leaders improve, the United States will decline as a nation.

Among other findings, Americans’ trust and confidence have been in a long-time decline but appear to be at an especially low state today: 66% of Americans believe we have a leadership crisis in the nation today. 55% of Americans think we have worse leaders today compared to 20 years ago.

Confidence in specific leadership groups is mixed, with military and medical leaders inspiring the highest levels; the press, executive branch, and congress inspiring the lowest. Interestingly, Americans also feel the country would be better off with more women in leadership positions.

Does that mean Hillary?

Americans say what they want most from their leaders is honesty and integrity: 95% say honesty and integrity is extremely or very important in being a good leader, but they recognize a difference between leaders’ professional and personal lives. Asked which of four factors are most important in having confidence in leaders, 44% name honesty, integrity, and ethics in leaders’ professional life; 26% cite honesty, integrity and ethics in leaders’ personal life.

Sounds to me like plurality nostalgia for Bill Clinton.

A large majority of Americans feel the public shares the blame for the leadership crisis in the country today: 82% agree that “Americans who don’t keep up on important issues are a big part of today’s leadership problem.”

It’s the fault of all those other easily led dummies.

Though they feel leadership has declined, Americans remain hopeful about the future: 65% say it is likely that the country will have better leaders in the future – they especially feel this way if they are Democrats. This coincides with findings that Americans tend to respond to leadership issues along partisan lines, with 87% of Democrats ageeing that “we have a leadership crisis in this country today” and only 37% of Republicans doing so.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014.Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted.Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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