To be clear about this, there are also many male leaders that I admire. As an executive, I look to both men and women in leadership positions for inspiration and learning opportunities. When I think of leaders that I admire, a few well-known names definitely come to mind – Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Meg Whitman, and Indra Nooyi – just to name a few. However, there are other, perhaps less well-known names that are equally impressive and worthy of note including Melinda Gates and Angela Merkel. In this entry, I am going to focus on three of these individuals, one from the corporate world, one humanitarian and one political leader. To be sure, each of these women have achieved things on such a global scaled that anyone striving to “make a difference” can learn something from understanding more about these extraordinary women.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, has routinely appeared in articles or lists of the top women in business over the past several years. I first became aware of her when my husband was doing work with PepsiCo back in the mid-1990s. In his the course of his work with PepsiCo, he met with Ms. Nooyi who was then serving as the senior vice president of strategic planning. After a visit with her in Purchase, NY, he noted just how down to earth and incredibly astute she was. It was clear to him that she was a stylistic and intellectual force to be reckoned with. It’s been well documented that she occasionally wears her traditional Indian sari to company functions, patrols the office barefoot at times and even sings in the halls. Moreover, she had her own all-girl rock band when she was younger and is a diehard NY Yankees fan. Despite the tremendous stresses of her position, she seems to be able to lead with a sense of spirit and fun.Her drive and ambition, however, led to her appointment as president and CFO in 2001 and subsequently, in 2006, named CEO, making her one of the most prominent women in Corporate America. To be sure, PepsiCo is not only a Fortune 100 company, but also a repetitive member of the most admired companies in America lists. What’s more, is that Ms. Nooyi is one of only three women CEOs in the Fortune 100 and just one of 13 women leading Fortune 500 companies. This is surely impressive in and of itself. But, what are also very notable characteristics about Ms. Nooyi are her uncanny humility and her willingness to be open about what she is good at and what she is not good at. This skill – knowing what you don’t know – is, in my opinion, one of the greatest qualities of highly successful people and one which I completely admire in Indra Nooyi.

Next on my list is Melinda Gates. Perhaps you recognize her surname, and if you do, you may make the connection that Mrs. Gates is in fact Mrs. Bill Gates. But, despite being the wife of one of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Mrs. Gates is not always living the cushy life. In fact, she often finds herself in some of the most desperate places on the planet. As co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world, she helps control the power of the purse for the charity – an amount exceeding $37 billion. The charity, with influence from Mrs. Gates, has decided to focus on health issues, including the eradication of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as ending hunger and poverty around the world. Additionally, the foundation seeks to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology within the United States.

Armed with bachelor’s degrees in computer science and economics as well as an MBA from Duke University, Mrs. Gates has steered the foundation’s work since its inception in 2000. The foundation works with both private industry as well as governments to achieve its charitable goals. With her youngest child now in school, Mrs. Gates dedicates an increasing amount of time traveling and speaking on behalf of the foundation, participating in the Bilderberg Group, an unofficial annual invitation-only conference of approximately 130 guests, mostly persons of influence in the fields of business, media and politics, as well as at the World Economic Forum. In 2005, along with her husband and U2 icon Bono, Mrs. Gates was named by Time as the Persons of the Year. In 2006, she was ranked 12th of the 100 Most Powerful Women and in 2007, she was ranked 24th. As a mother of three children with all the wealth one can imagine, it is unquestionably admirable for Mrs. Gates to devote herself to such worthy causes that will ultimately have incredible benefits the whole world over.

Last, but by no means last in any way, is Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. What is so impressive about Ms. Merkel is that in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, she was working as a researcher in physics at the Institute for Physical Chemistry, East German Academy of Sciences in East Berlin and had never participated in political activity. Just ten years later, she was head of a major political party within the unified Germany. And five years after that, she was the chancellor. Not only is she the first woman and first from East Germany to lead Germany since it became a modern nation-state in 1871, but she is also the youngest person to be chancellor since the Second World War. Also, she is only the third woman to ever serve on the Group of Eight (G8), the international forum for the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as having served as the president of the European Council, the highest political body of the European Union. In both 2006 and 2007, Ms. Merkel topped Forbes magazine’s list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women”.

What I admire most about Angela Merkel is her leadership style which she describes as think, consult and then decide. She uses this approach to skillfully balance Germany’s relationships with the U.S. as well as Russia, to have impressively led two global summits, to achieve her stated goal of improving Germany’s economy with unemployment at five-year lows and solid GDP growth, and to attain a popularity rating of 75%, making her one of the country’s most popular leaders ever. She has achieved all of this having traveled a most unusual path for German politics – she comes from East Germany, she is a woman, and she studied and worked in natural sciences not politics or law. Moreover, even with all of her power and success, she is known to be quite unpretentious, authentic and modest. Yet, she is not fearful of making tough decisions such as her recent choice to meet with the Dalai Lama despite China’s public protest and threats to cancel national talks and public expression of shame for the Holocaust during a speech to the Israeli Knesset. It certainly takes fortitude to confront these matters is such open forums and she did so with laudable grace and dignity, evincing her inherent leadership qualities.

As I have noted here, leaders come from all walks of life be it business, politics or humanitarian fields. And while I singled out women leaders, clearly success as a leader is agnostic to one’s gender. During my own personal and professional life, I have been fortunate to be witness to some truly commendable leaders who have taught me many things that text books or schooling could never have done.

Nina nets it out: Don’t think that leadership is gender-specific or even tied to one’s field. Great leaders shine no matter how they apply their capabilities. I’ve learned many things from heeding the lessons that these leaders have espoused via their actions. Who has inspired you through their leadership?.