Some of today’s most inspirational leaders come from the worlds of business and politics. Some of them are even entertainers first and leaders second. In any case, these folks are the ones that everyone else looks up to, and they’re the ones leading us bravely into the future.
It’s one thing to be a leader; it’s another thing entirely to be an inspirational one. Plenty of people lead others, but fewer manage to inspire them too. For the sake of this list, we’re strictly focusing on leaders who inspire the world at large and not necessarily just those who follow them. In other words, these people are leaving indelible marks on society, and they are sure to be remembered for centuries to come.
The current president is the American dream writ large. He not only rose from being raised by a single mother to becoming the leader of the free world, but he managed to do so as a minority. As the first African-American U.S. president, Obama instantly inspired millions of people around the world. On the night he was elected, people around the globe celebrated, and the famous scene from Grant Park in Chicago was played out in several locations across the world. Since becoming the 44th president, Obama has ended one war and is working to end another, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to boot. Whether you agree with his politics or not, there’s no denying how inspirational he is.
When people think of millionaires and billionaires, images of Ebenezer Scrooge often spring to mind. Bill Gates has smashed those perceptions by being one of the most generous billionaires in history. As the founder of Microsoft, Gates could have taken a miserly approach to his great fortune. Instead, he’s always been steadfastly committed to giving back. He and his wife run the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works on improving education in the U.S., fighting infectious diseases and improving the food supply around the world. Gates has heralded in an era of kinder, gentler, more giving capitalism.
Sir Richard Branson
As the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group, which is made up of more than 400 companies, Branson is a force to be reckoned with in the business world. Instead of using that power to push along his own agenda, he’s been using to advance science. A few years ago, Branson founded Virgin Galactic, which is going to give civilians the chance to travel in spaceships and see outer space. Bookings are currently being accepted, and trips are scheduled to begin toward the end of this year. With NASA’s space program out of commission, Branson is a beacon of light for anyone who loves space.
Though her long-running show is now over, Winfrey still manages to make waves. Unlike many celebrities, her waves tend to be of the humanitarian variety. Although she clearly isn’t out to achieve world peace or to prompt sweeping reforms, Winfrey has long been the champion of those who are down on their luck. She comes from very humble beginnings and uses her story as proof that people can achieve their goals. As a black woman, she’s a clear inspiration to African Americans and women, but her influence truly extends across all genders, races and ages.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin
No list of today’s most inspirational leaders would be complete without a mention of the founders of Google. This dynamic duo truly changed the world with their revolutionary search engine, and they’ve never rested on their laurels. With every passing year, Google embarks on some kind of new technology or exciting innovation. It’s gotten to the point that it’s impossible to talk about the Internet or technology without discussing Google too.
If a lot of people from the technology field have made the list, it’s because technology plays such a prominent role in modern life. As the founder of Amazon, Bezos has not only changed the way in which people shop for things - he’s changed the way they enjoy books entirely too. With the debut of the Kindle, Bezos truly cemented his place in the historical record. The Kindle Fire has even reduced some of the iPad’s luster, which is no easy feat. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t use Amazon at least every now and then, and that’s pretty inspirational.
Unless you’re from the Maldives or follow environmental issues closely, you may not have heard of Nasheed. He served as president of that country from 2008 to 2012, and he pulled that off after being imprisoned dozens of times for various political reasons. During his tenure, he sought to make his tiny country completely carbon neutral. While working toward that goal, he inspired leaders around the world. Since then, the concept of carbon neutrality is being taken more seriously than ever, and there’s little doubt that Nasheed’s influence played a huge part in that.
For many years, white males from wealthy families were the only ones who could hope to ascend to the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land has become a lot more diverse, fortunately, and Sotomayor is one of its most interesting and exciting success stories. She grew up poor in the Bronx and was raised by her widowed mother. Based on her early life alone, no one would ever predict that she’d eventually become a Supreme Court justice. As if that’s not inspiring enough, she’s the first Hispanic to earn a place on the court, so she’s smashed away that barrier too.
Former U.S. presidents usually spend their waning years doing philanthropic things and wielding their power to make the world a better place. Bill Clinton has gone above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, he still has so much respect around the world that he’s been called on to help out when crises occur. There’s little doubt that his influence played a huge role in Barack Obama’s reelection, and he and his wife continue to be extremely influential around the world. If you’re not convinced that he’s inspirational, just watch him speak sometime.
The list is rounded out by yet another wealthy businessman. Buffet was used his power for the forces of good, however, and many believe his influence helped to keep the recent financial crisis from being a complete and total disaster. Buffet helped out a handful of major corporations that were struggling during the crisis, and he played a big part in keeping investor confidence from plummeting drastically. Buffet has done well in America, but he’s given back a lot too.
Interestingly enough, some of the most inspirational leaders in the world had very humble beginnings. This highlights the fact that just about anyone can become an important member of modern society. That’s especially true in the United States. There’s nothing more inspiring than someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty simply to help others or a person who strives to improve the world through amazing technological advancements.