This year was a rough year. We entered it fearfully. We're leaving it, unfortunately, without a lot more confidence that 2011 will be much better.
Even so, there were some real strong stories this year — and behind each of those stories, there was a good leader. Here are 10 who made a difference:
Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook — Just look at the company's results and growth. A great COO helps the organization do what it does best, but most spend all their time trying to become the CEO. Sandberg seems to be satisfied being a great COO — making the company more money while it engages new opportunities.
Brian Dunn, CEO, Best Buy — One of the first retail bosses to really use social media to communicate broadly. In a sector that's been knocked down by online retail, Dunn has done a great job of reinventing the core businesses of Best Buy and, in turn, helping it succeed. He's taken chances and invested in human capital.
Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair, Disney Media, and President, Disney - ABC TV — Sweeney is considered by many to be the most powerful woman in the entertainment industry. I am impressed that she shows great care for the development of people in the Disney group of companies, ensuring great bench strength is a mark of greatness in a leader. This bodes well for the future of Disney's organizations.
Reed Hastings, CEO, Netflix — You may ask how a "DVD distributor" made my list. I put him on it because he is an amazing survivor in a business many have written off repeatedly. Lots of bosses lack an openness to new ideas, but by all accounts, Hastings encourages challenging discussions that would be too much for many leaders.
Matthew Harrington, CEO, Edelman Public Relations — Great PR has helped a lot of necessary issues and organizations to make it forward. Harrington's customer-first attitude is refreshing in a sector full of huge egos and BS. I have worked with Edelman and find them to be more caring about "real issues" than any other PR organization with whom I've engaged. I chalk that up to Harrington's philosophies of leadership.
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group — If you don't know his company already, you will soon. Tata oversees a massive empire in many sectors worldwide. Since buying Jaguar, Tata Group is mostly known for autos in the Western world, but it's in everything from IT to energy on every populated continent. I believe the world is tilting eastward, that is, that many Westerners' "head office" in the future will be in the East. Tata's will be one of those.
Indra K. Nooyi, Chair and CEO, PepsiCo — Any woman who gets to the top of one of the world's largest organizations has to be extra smart. Nooyi has shown other bosses that it's possible to grow the business and become more green at the same time. Smart, tough, and caring, she continues to befuddle many in corporate America with her risky decisions in beverage and food.
Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple — I know, you're tired of hearing about Jobs. But he made his company into the most valuable organization in the tech sector in 2010, and he continues to delight his customers and stockholders. Apple's products are an acquired taste, and many others will continue to knock them off to provide "better value." But right now, Jobs continues to set the direction of many sectors.
Alan Mulally, CEO, Ford — He turned around a company left for dead a couple of years ago and is now creating great quality and profitable vehicles. An outsider in an industry that most said can't survive without a "car guy" at the top, he's used common sense while listening to the market for direction. There's not much else to say.
Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos — If you've never bought shoes online, try Zappos and experience customer care like it's always supposed to have been. I led a shoe retail business for several years and know why most can't make money. Hsieh is one of the few CEOs who invest where it's needed in each of the three main fronts - inventory, systems, and people. He really walks the talk. Customers love Zappos.
Each of these leaders has been knocked around in the press for their "styles," but they each provide proof that care and attention are two of the most important leadership attributes, regardless of industry or role.
Take a lead from them.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.