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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

The courageous: Elizabeth Smart

Question: Considering all spheres of endeavor, who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?

The best leaders display their greatest qualities in a crisis--and Elizabeth Smart endured an unimaginable one, for nine months back in 2002. The sick couple who kidnapped Elizabeth from her Salt Lake City bedroom when she was 14 and subjected her to daily assaults, humiliation and torture did everything they could to destroy her life. The male kidnapper and rapist was recently convicted of these crimes. And yet, the incredible poise Elizabeth has shown in the years since her ordeal reminds us that her spirit was not broken. Instead, she's grown into a remarkable young woman--and my choice for the 2010 Leader of the Year.

Elizabeth embodies several leadership traits that we frankly do not see enough of in some of our better-known leaders in business, politics and sports. First, she has plenty to teach all of us about courage and perseverance. She showed tremendous physical and mental stamina in surviving a time of captivity that was as brutal as anything prisoners of war have faced. She also found the strength to testify in court about it with confidence, calmness and clarity. Second, she's exhibited real authenticity--a sincerity, modesty and straightforwardness in her interviews and courtroom proceedings that's inspiring to witness in a media culture too often characterized by opportunism and self-glorification. At the same time, she's shown herself to be forward looking and focused on finding whatever good she can from her horrible experience. She wasn't about to let others dictate her future or stamp her permanently as a victim. She went on to attend college, is now on a Mormon mission in France and has also become an advocate for the homeless.

Following the verdict against her attacker, she told reporters, "I am so thrilled to stand before the people of America today and give hope to other victims. I hope that not only is this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened." Those words eloquently capture what is perhaps Elizabeth's most powerful lesson--that leadership is ultimately about shifting the focus off of ourselves and onto our mission and the people we're privileged to serve. That's a worthy and inspiring goal for all of us in 2011.

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By John R. Ryan

 |  December 22, 2010; 9:46 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership , Managing Crises , Self-Sacrifice , Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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No one should ever underestimate Elizabeth Smart's courage under fire. She indeed endured more torture than most POW's & for a longer time. She is the epitome of strength & an icon of courage to inspire every young woman in our society today. I sincerely hope she decides to run for public office because she has all it takes to be a great stateswoman for our country.

Posted by: momshugs | December 27, 2010 3:37 PM
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