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What Makes a Great Leader?

In a world that is changing more rapidly than ever, we should seek leaders who can protect and serve the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. This means not just criticizing the failings of weak leaders, but also highlighting the successes of strong ones.

SINGAPORE – Not long ago, over dinner in Singapore, we attempted to define what qualities make a great leader. For Klaus, the five key elements were heart, brain, muscle, nerve, and soul. For Kishore, compassion, canniness, and courage were key, as was the ability to identify talent and understand complexity. The extent of the overlap is telling.

It is no coincidence that both lists begin with heart. Like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, a leader cannot achieve greatness without showing deep empathy with his or her people – a sentiment that fuels the fight against the injustices those people may face.

Such heroic leaders are unlikely to emerge in normal times. But these are not normal times. On the contrary, today’s unprecedented inequality in many parts of the world is precisely the kind of injustice that could spur the emergence of great leaders with compassion for those at the bottom. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the young leader who most radiates hope today, was elected partly because of his commitment to helping ordinary people.

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