In my work, I spend time with CEOs of professional societies and trade associations, helping them to find a way forward in the 21st century. It most often involves innovation, taking them beyond the status quo to create new ways of serving their members. In particular, I am interested in how these leaders, along with their boards of volunteer leaders, work to provide benefits to the larger society, meeting the expectations that society has for them. It’s not always easy. But it is always rewarding.

I think there is a larger conversation that needs to happen around leadership for those who are heading organizations, whether through participating in the board that guides these organizations or by being the CEO and taking command of execution.

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
John Maxwell: “Leadership is an influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Each of these lacks something critical. They may provide the bare bones definition, but I believe to be a leader you have to offer something of value to the world. I don’t think simply harnessing the efforts of others to have an effect, an impact on your world is enough. I don’t consider someone a leader unless they leave the world better than they found it.

We know that everything is connected: economics – culture – politics – society – Nature… what you do in one area changes the relationship and the state of all. So, when I talk about leaving the world better than you find it, I am talking about significant change. It’s a hard job. It’s difficult to wrap your brain around. It’s even more challenging to get something done.

That’s why you need leaders. Leaders who take the time to understand the nuances and issues, who don’t reduce things to simple polarities but instead dive into the intricacies.

Where will you focus your efforts this week? Is there a place where leadership is calling you to step up and address a difficult issue?


“The one thing I have learned as a CEO is that leadership at various levels is vastly different. When I was leading a function or a business, there were certain demands and requirements to be a leader. As you move up the organization, the requirements for leading that organization don’t grow vertically; they grow exponentially.”
Indra Nooyi