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Five of the best profiles published in 2010

We're fortunate that our jobs bring us into contact with a lot of good reading material, and over the course of 2010, we've happened upon a few fantastic articles. As we continue with the holiday spirit, we wanted to share five of the best profiles of leaders that we've read this year.

1. The Courage of Jill Costello, by Chris Ballard
Although this article will break your heart, you shouldn't miss it. In 2009, Jill Costello was finishing her junior year at UC Berkeley and anticipating her senior season as coxswain on the women's crew team. As a young and seemingly healthy athlete, she was floored when she was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly before heading home for the summer.

While many receive a cancer diagnosis, very few react like Jill. She stayed in school, was active in her treatment, and even managed to remain on the crew team for her final year. This is a story about how a leader can lift a team, and how the team can return the favor. It's a story about resilience, perseverance, selflessness and a positive attitude; and, ultimately, it's a story of hope. While Jill passed away shortly after the conclusion of her senior year, she left a legacy that anyone would be proud of.

2. The Face of Facebook, by Jose Anonio Vargas
Mark Zuckerberg was recently named Time Magazine's Person of the Year, but Vargas' New Yorker profile of the Facebook CEO provides a nuanced view that is much different from other depictions. Like the opposing public images presented by various media outlets, Zuckerberg is nothing if not a contradiction. He's the billionaire CEO of Silicon Valley's hottest company, but doesn't own a TV; he's built an organization where people can (over)share personal information, but remains markedly private; he's on the cutting edge of a digital revolution, but loves classics like The Aeneid. Vargas paints a seemingly genuine portrait of Zuckerberg, a man who values transparency and honesty, and who is trying to build a business that also reflects those values. He's a young leader on a very public stage who has made his share of mistakes, but he seems to have learned from those, and his personal growth and development appear to be matching that of his fast-rising company.

3. The Empty Chamber, by George Packer
Most of us know intuitively that something is wrong with the Senate, but it's hard to get past generalities. While we may simply say, "it's broken," Packer's article, also in the New Yorker, does a masterful job of explaining both why the institution is broken and why it's future may be more bleak than the present. He walks readers through the abuses of arcane rules, the partisanship, the fund raising, the group think. Talk about a massive failure in leadership...

4. The Runaway General, by Michael Hastings
Rolling Stone suggests that Hastings' article changed history, which is right. Prior to the article's publication in the magazine, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was leading the U.S.'s combat efforts in Afghanistan. Shortly after the article came out, McChrystal had what must have been a very uncomfortable sit-down with President Obama and was unceremoniously relieved of his duties.

McChrystal was depicted as arrogant and unsophisticated, surrounding himself with "yes-men" that he dubbed "Team America". He fostered an attitude that derided alternative efforts to make headway in the Afghan conflict, such as diplomatic outreach by recently deceased statesman Richard Holbrooke, and dug himself deeper into an insular and shortsighted hole. While McChrystal was a four-star general who went on foot patrol with his men and truly cared about his job, he simply wasn't open minded enough to solve the large-scale problems Afghanistan presented. In the end, McChrystal's passion wasn't enough, and he failed to view the conflict from alternate perspectives.

5. A Dream in the Making, by Joe Posnanski
Joe Posnanski pulls back the curtain on Scott Pioli, the current GM of the Kansas City Chiefs and the architect of the New England Patriots' teams that won three Super Bowls in four years. While Pioli was named the personnel man of the decade by ESPN, most sport fans (outside of Boston and Kansas City) have never heard of him.

But Pioli's importance cannot be overstated. Many General Managers across professional sport believe in simply acquiring as much talent as they can, but Pioli espouses a more sustainable form of team building, one in which character matters. Rather than pick the high-profile guys who have the fastest 40-yard dash times at the combine, Pioli looks for the guys who inspire their teammates to work harder, to play better. He looks for hard-to-measure qualities like accountability, dependability and discipline. While this article highlights a top-line executive in sport, leaders in all industries would do well to read it. In the end, whether you're talking about a sales team, a finance department or a football team, Pioli's approach to building a team works.

Together, these articles paint a fairly comprehensive picture of leadership. Some are stark warnings of what to avoid--the article about the Senate suggests that even the best of leaders can become overwhelmed by a dysfunctional culture. Others are shining examples that we would be wise to imitate. We always enjoy hearing from you, so let us in on some of the articles you came across this year that are worth sharing.

Have an idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch at info@menoconsulting.com, connect with us on Facebook, or visit us at Meno Consulting.

By Joe Frontiera and Dan Leidl  |  December 20, 2010; 2:51 PM ET  | Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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