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Profiles in Leadership

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"Most of the things in your room right now will eventually become garbage." That’s the simple idea that in 2001 drove Tom Szaky to launch Terracycle, a company that collects waste and converts it into new products. He says, "Right now is the time for innovation." Skittles wrappers become a kite; Honest Tea containers become a laptop case ...

Football Hall of Famer Joe Montana bookended his football career with two spectacular failures. Both times, his passes were intercepted. Montana—who wrapped up his 16 years in the NFL as the only three-time Super Bowl most valuable player—offers these two exercises so you can overcome failure in a low-stakes environment.

With a legacy as author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and as a thought leader, Julia Ward Howe influenced the course of the Civil War. She stuck to her resolution of writing what she thought, no matter whom it offended (her own husband included). Yet, she was known as a builder. "Ambitious people climb," she said, "but faithful people build."

Nancy McKinstry, CEO of the multinational publisher Wolters Kluwer, describes herself as an analytical person. She also calls herself an “insider-outsider” who knows her company thoroughly from the inside but also is an outsider—she became its first non-Dutch CEO and the first woman to lead it. She says she likes hiring people who have overcome adversity because ...

The pace of change seems to grow more urgent every year. Some see it as an attribute of leadership in the 21st century—right up there with judgment and courage. Consider, then, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who spread the speed creed 70 years before it was cool.

Online shoe retailer Zappos is known for its knockout customer service. But CEO Tony Hsieh says his secret of success is really about his employees. “Our belief is that if you get the company culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, will just happen.” That includes some unconventional ideas like paying new employees $2,000 to quit...

Pete Sampras realized early in his tennis career that his opponent wasn’t beating him. Sampras was beating himself. It wasn’t just that he’d played badly, Sampras says now. “I also played without heart, which is a greater sin.” Later in his career, Sampras saw reality with rare objectivity. He lists five truisms as mostly fair and all realistic, starting with "You're only as good as your last win..."

Jean Henri Dunant arrived in Solferino, Italy, on a business trip in 1859 and found himself in the middle of hell. About 38,000 soldiers lay dead and dying, casualties of a battle to push Austria out of Italy. That moment inspired him to launch the International Red Cross. Another big idea that came from his work: the Geneva Conventions. How did he make it happen?

Think the economy is bad now? Here’s how things stood in 1933: The jobless rate in America hit 25%. Business investment choked. Banks defaulted. Totalitarianism swept the globe. FDR—according to his critics—appeared vain, insincere, a liar and, generally, not a nice guy. So, how did he restore faith in the U.S. economy?

Ever wonder who was the first woman to appear on the Wheaties cereal box?  It was Elinor Smith, the “Flying Flapper.” She made her first solo flight at age 15 and was one of the youngest Americans to earn a pilot’s license. By age 17, Smith was taking passengers on short hops and by age 18 she was running her own sightseeing business. Among the many risks she took was a wild dare from some boys in her high school that has never been repeated.

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