When we think of leaders to watch in 2014, we are expecting to see leaders who will be capturing the headlines and generating success for their business or organisation.  These leaders may be taking the company to new heights of profitability and shareholder value or deftly turning a business around that has been failing commercially. We may also have our attention drawn to leaders headlining for their wrongdoings!

However, we are probably not looking out for leaders who are working, with less media attention, to create meaningful and positive changes in our world. Our attention is less attuned to watch leaders who are speaking out for goodness, kindness, compassion, fairness, tolerance and equality for all.  Yet, for me, this is the true definition of leadership; people who are using their God-given talents and gifts to create a life-enhancing change or significant difference to the lives of others on our planet.

Spiritual Leader
Spiritual Leader

Worldwide there are many leaders who are doing exactly this. Here are a few of the leaders we should all be watching in 2014. They are people who can inspire us all to be leaders in our lives:

  • Karen Armstrong, the English scholar and author who has studied all of the world’s religions and found the common thread that joins them all together: compassion.

Karen, having won the TED prize in 2008, used the money and the support of TED to create, launch and promote the “Charter For Compassion”, with the ultimate aim of making the world a more compassionate place. The Charter, which was put together by a group of leading thinkers from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, now has over 103,000 people who have pledged to uphold the value of compassion. Signatories include The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

Karen herself is committed to spreading the idea of compassion and The Golden Rule in organisations and cities worldwide. For example, in December 2013, Botswana signed “The Botho Agreement” alongside The Charter, committing the country to compassion and understanding for all.

  • Francine and David Wheeler, who lost their six year old son Benjamin in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. The Wheelers now speak out about the importance of community, forgiveness, love and also preventing a similar tragedy through gun control.

Francine Wheeler spoke to the nation giving President Obama’s weekly address last April, calling for “common sense gun responsibility reforms.” The Wheelers also lobbied Senators to pass these reforms. Along with other parents involved in the tragedy, the Wheelers have set up the “Sandy Hook Promise” to address gun violence in the US and build a network of “Promise Communities” aimed at raising awareness among Americans about the causes of gun violence. In November 2013 they launched “Parent Together”, a further national campaign to educate and empower parents, emphasizing the importance of mental wellness, connection and community to tackle the issues of gun safety.



  • Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Monk, who will be 88 years old this year, travels worldwide to promote the Buddhist principles of mindfulness, awareness, and compassion. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr for his efforts to bring reconciliation in the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh himself embodies peace, vital health, diverse talents, global thinking and a directed life combined with activism.

He completed a US tour in 2013 speaking to thousands. He spent a day at Google teaching mindfulness practices to the employees there and seeking their support in making the world a more peaceful place through technology. His touring continues this year starting in Spain, where he will speak to groups of 700 – 800 at a time. His monks and nuns have been guided by him to create “Wake Up”, a worldwide movement to bring mindfulness, concentration and insight to young people aged 16 – 35. They have already spoken at colleges in Oxford and Cambridge as well as many universities in the US. Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastic order is the fastest growing order in the world.

  • Marianne Williamson, an internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher, is standing for the House of Representatives in a California district in the November 2014 Congressional elections. Marianne believes that the transformational principles that she has been teaching for over 30 years are now embraced by much of society. However, the political system remains rigidly outside of this growing awareness and understanding of a more caring and relational approach to life. Marianne wants to change that.

She stands on a platform of bringing back real democracy to US politics, free from the huge influence of financial leverage, such that the political system, she believes, has now become government by a few, for the few. Marianne wants to return to the ethical centre of American politics, allowing humanitarian values to guide the system rather than the short term economic interests. She is standing as an Independent, believing that as an Independent she can speak, free from the influence of the two major parties.

  • Amanda Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry is leaving the organisation mid-2014 to join Apple as Senior Vice President on their Executive Team. Amanda joined Burberry in 2006 and, under her leadership; the company has tripled its revenues to more than £3.1bn. The legacy that Amanda is most proud of is that she has created, within the company, “one of the most connected, creative and compassionate cultures in the world today”.

Amanda focuses on the importance of positive energy in generating results and inspired, interpersonal relationships with values which unite people around a shared vision. It will be interesting to see how she brings these same values into her role at Apple, alongside her belief in the importance of corporate social responsibility.



  • Malala Yousafiz, who in November 2013, won the Sakharov prize for free speech awarded by the European Parliament. She used the occasion as an opportunity to again speak out for her dream of free education for children worldwide.

Malala believes that what makes a nation powerful is not its arsenal of guns but it’s “educated society, human morals… and equal rights for both genders”. Malala has written a book “I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban” which tells her story.

This year she intends to continue to spread her message of equality and education for all, including a boy’s right to education instead of child labour.

Malala aspires to be a politician in the future and will be sharing her ideas about women in politics with students at a conference in India in the spring.

Any list of leaders to watch that are making a difference has to include Ricken Patel from Avaaz. In 2014 he will continue his worldwide campaign to make the world a better place. Ricken believes that the technology he is harnessing has given voice to a global desire for greater democracy around the globe. With over 32 million members, it will be interesting to watch where Avaaz takes action in 2014.

Going forward beyond 2014, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa will hopefully have its students making a mark. The Academy, which aims to produce future leaders for South Africa, was inspired following a conversation between Oprah and Nelson Mandela. Each child picked by Oprah to attend the Academy, is a high achiever academically and comes from a disadvantaged family.  Oprah looks for a “spark” in a child, as well as a record of leadership and service within their communities. The Academy aims to encourage and develop those qualities, as well as others, such as compassion and understanding, balanced with assertiveness and clear leadership. It hopes to prepare a new generation of leaders who will bring peace to South Africa and the world. The first group of children graduated from the Academy in 2012 after four years studying there. They have all gone on to university.

In conclusion, I believe that these leaders are the ones we should all be watching in 2014 – they deserve our interest, support and encouragement. There are many others like them who are also making a real difference in our world. The qualities they display, I believe, make them the true leaders of the 21st century.

Sarah Alexander
Sarah Alexander

About Sarah Alexander Sarah Alexander is author of ‘Spiritual Intelligence in Leadership’. Sarah runs one-to-one transformational programmes for business owners and leaders, guiding them to use their inner intelligence to make the most of their life’s work. Sarah has worked with international sports competitors, executives from multinationals and successful entrepreneurs. www.sarah-alexander.co.uk



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