Leading in the disrupted decade – which leaders do CEOs admire most?

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15 April 2013 – What makes a leader? Do leaders have common traits, or are these defined by the challenges and circumstance of the times? What does it take to lead a business in the context of a changing economic landscape? What should businesses expect of those leading them into the uncertainties of tomorrow?

As part of its 16th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC recently asked 1,400 CEOs from around the world which leaders they most admired, and what they most admired about their actions.

Some clear types emerged: warriors, (Napoleon; Alexander the Great) reformers (Jack Welch), leaders though adversity (Winston Churchill; Abraham Lincoln), leaders who caught the imagination of the masses (Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela) and consensus builders like Bill Clinton.

Winston Churchill was the most popular choice of all CEOs with Steve Jobs (an innovator) admired in the most number of countries (37).

Winston Churchill has wide appeal and popularity across Western Europe, coming top in France ahead of Charles de Gaulle and beating Niccolo Machiavelli to the top spot in Italy. Twice-serving as British prime minister (1940-45; 1951-55) he even manages a tie with Gandhi in Turkey, behind Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

CEOs’ top ten leaders:

1. Winston Churchill

2. Steve Jobs

3. Mahatma Gandhi

4. Nelson Mandela

5. Jack Welch

6. Abraham Lincoln

7. Margaret Thatcher

8. Ronald Reagan

9. John F Kennedy

10. Bill Clinton/Napoleon Bonaparte

Some 60% of CEOs chose a post-war politician or military leader. The other most popular categories were business leaders, historical leaders and contemporary leaders, in that order. Smaller categories include writers, artists, philosophers, sports people, religious leaders and fictional characters. 1% chose a colleague.

Fifteen women were named, of whom Margaret Thatcher was the only one to make the top ten. The next most-named women were Angela Merkel, Ayn Rand, Mother Teresa and Queen Elizabeth I. Women were four times more likely to choose a female leader than men.

At a time when the topic of leadership is receiving heightened attention, the PwC survey shows how characteristics like flexibility, pragmatism and agility are as relevant today as in millennia past.

Michael Rendell, Global Head of PwC’s Human Resource Services, said: “It’s clear that the role and expectations of leaders are changing, not withstanding that, CEOs continue to look back over history to identity role models. The dynamic between short-term targets, longer-term goals and increased transparency ushered in by the digital revolution is breeding a new generation of agile leaders.”



1. To see the full results of the survey into CEOs’ most admired leaders, go to www.pwc.com/ceosurvey/leaders. This site contains an interactive map showing the most admired leader by country. It also features two polls where people can vote on (1) what makes someone a good leader and (2) who their most admired leader is.

2. Interviews were conducted with 1,437 CEOs across 68 territories as part of PwC's 16th Annual Global CEO Survey during the last quarter of 2012.

3. PwC helps organisations and individuals create the value they’re looking for. We’re a network of firms in 158 countries with more than 180,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax and advisory services. Tell us what matters to you and find out more by visiting us at www.pwc.com.

PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. Please see www.pwc.com/structure for further details.