An Urgent Call for Bolder Leadership To Help Shape a Better Future
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An Urgent Call for Bolder Leadership To Help Shape a Better Future

An Urgent Call for Bolder Leadership To Help Shape a Better Future

Let's take a look at the leaders who are admired and considered successful right now. It makes for a fun conversation – often hotly debated – to decide on who should make the list of the top 10 CEOs who shape our world today, or indeed the historic top 10 leaders who had a significant impact. The list below is not a definitive top 10, just examples to get you thinking about the kinds of future shapers past and present who have made their mark.

Admired Leaders – Past and Present
Present Past
  1. Tim Cook, Apple 
  2. Jeff Bezos, Amazon 
  3. Elon Musk, SpaceX, Tesla
  4. Oprah Winfrey, Harpo Studios 
  5. Larry Page & Sergey Brin, Google
  6. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook 
  7. Jack Ma, Alibaba 
  8. Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank 
  9. Paul Polman, ex-Unilever 
  10. Jack Dorsey, Twitter
  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. Nelson Mandela 
  3. Albert Einstein 
  4. Mahatma Gandhi 
  5. Charles Darwin 
  6. Christopher Columbus 
  7. Marie Curie 
  8. Henry Ford 
  9. Thomas Edison 
  10. Emmeline Pankhurst

It would be interesting and humbling for the business community – and some of the richest people on the planet – to realize that many in the left column will never actually make it into the right column. Notice that very few CEOs' names or legacies really last the test of time. Many business leaders are dominating our attention today, but are they making a really lasting future-shaping legacy? Perhaps there is more to world future shaping than building a big business and dominating their markets. Don't confuse market dominance with true future shaping.

Perhaps you will be on this list one day. Our world needs our business leaders to try harder, to take more responsibility, to deliver better outcomes faster. I encourage the emergence of a new breed of leader – future shapers – who will take their leadership role very seriously, who will create positive change out of chaos, who will lead by example, and who will motivate their teams and others to deliver on missions that will strengthen their organizations and help boost the economy. With each leader more finely attuned and focused on delivering meaningful lasting leadership legacies, positive change will come.

Perhaps you think you are not important enough to matter, that one person cannot change the world. Or that you are too junior to make an impact in your massively matrixed organization. Perhaps you feel that you have the ideas but no platform, no voice to be heard, and no one listening anyway. The way I see it is that one person can change the world, and that type of person is a true leader. The way I see it is that most people underestimate what they are capable of. Whatever your role, whatever your organization – if you step up as a future-shaper leader, you can make a lasting impact.

Leadership has become more democratized, less hierarchical. Command-and-control structures of the past have given way to flatter organizations and flatter power sharing in those organizations. Leadership can come from anywhere – from the digital-native graduate new joiner, to the newly promoted leader in a large corporation, to the entrepreneurial college dropout. It comes from within the person who dares to dream of creating a better future and who dares to decide to make a difference.

You, dear reader, can be the one to make a difference. I encourage you to be open to and curious about what is being suggested – and to apply what you learn to step up and become a future-shaper leader. Become someone who is unafraid to lead, unafraid to imagine what is possible, unafraid to rally cry to others and secure their support. Become a leader who has purpose, who can inspire others, who is willing to persist when the path appears to be blocked – always asking, Is there another way? Become someone who can build great teams, achieve great results, and is savvy about how to secure the kind of platform and power base required to be heard.

The world needs you to lead for good, and create a better future for you and for all of us, now more than ever before. I wish you well on your future-shaping mission.

Niamh O'Keeffe is a corporate leadership advisor and author of “Future Shaper: How leaders can take charge in an uncertain world” (2020). Contact her at

Published: August 21st, 2020

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