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Lessons Learned

When we began this project, we had no way of knowing what the results would be, especially which leaders would appear in the top ten. Many of us guessed, from our twenty-first century American perspective, that the usual suspects would fall in the top ten or in the top twenty or so: George Washington , Nelson Mandela , Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln . To our surprise, not one of them made the top ten; Gandhi (#11) and Mandela (#14) and Lincoln (#18) made the top twenty; Washington did not show up until number 29.

As the voting progressed from November through February, we watched with fascination at the rapid lead gained and sustained by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and others associated with Turkish history. The voting was open to all worldwide and it is the nature of online voting and the effect of social media that voters learned about this site from others who visited it and spread the word to those who were inclined to vote the same way. Encouraged by social media, many voters from Turkey have expressed their desire for Atatürk to dominate this list and they have been successful (with more than 300,000 votes cast, more than two thirds were cast in Turkey!). Clearly, one's understanding of significance in leadership is relative to one's life experience and this is reflected in the interesting votes that were cast during the 100 days of voting for this project.

The voting and rankings were never meant to be the primary focus of the 100 Leaders project. Voting was designed to stimulate interest and serve as a fun activity. Most important, we hoped that teachers everywhere would engage their students in a thoughtful investigation of leaders, leadership and legacy in history. We were not disappointed. Many teachers involved whole classrooms in the project and some involved their entire schools in conducting research, producing campaign posters, and debating the characteristics of significant leadership, with all of its positive and negative implications.

This project was designed to look at five key characteristics of leadership. By providing a scale by which voters could select a specific score for each leader, we hoped that visitors to the site felt encouraged to think about how those on the list measure on each criterion. Given the complexity of all of these scores, the final rankings were calculated using an algorithm that factors each characteristic as well as the overall count for each leader. In so doing, the final rankings reveal unique ways of looking at those on the list.

When we selected the 100 leaders for the project, we took steps to consider geography, gender, local versus global impact, time period and subject-area category (religious, political, military, etc.) of each leader. In a similar way we decided to share the final rankings from several different perspectives, thinking visitors might want to know the comparative rankings of the women, or of the leaders by geographical location, by time period or category.

Our hope when we started was that it would teach us to be more thoughtful if and when we might be placed in positions of leadership. We hope we have inspired visitors, particularly our youngest ones from classrooms around the world, to do just that.