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2015 Leaders of the Year | Next Step Partners

2015 Leaders of the Year

We started off the year with a post written by our own Michael Melcher about making 2015 the Year of the Great Boss and how to become a great boss yourself. With the year drawing to an end, we wanted to close the loop by sharing some examples of people who showed themselves to be truly great leaders in 2015.

Each of the partners here at Next Step Partners reflected on the various leaders who inspired them over the year and chose one to share with you. Our hope is that highlighting these great leaders of 2015—several of whom are not widely known—will give you ideas for new directions to take your leadership in 2016.

Marc Benioff | Founder + CEO, Salesforce

Marc Benioff | Founder + CEO, Salesforce


Marc Benioff | Founder + CEO, Salesforce
Proactively Addressing Pay Equity

Rebecca Zucker | Next Step Partners

Nominated by Rebecca Zucker

What stands out to you about this leader?

Marc Benioff demonstrated a big, audacious act of leadership in 2015: he called for an audit of his company to ensure pay equality between men and women for the same work. He didn’t stop there. The company then spent about $3 million to match the salaries of female employees to those of their male counterparts.

While there are probably many CEO’s who would prefer the “ignorance is bliss” approach, Benioff was willing to search for and correct any inequities. He will hopefully serve as a role model and raise the bar for other corporate leaders to do the same. While doing the right thing, it’s also a huge win for hiring and retention at the company. Who wouldn’t want to go work for (or stay at) a company who proactively ensured pay equality?

What is so inspiring to you about this leader?

What is so inspiring is that Benioff didn’t have to do this—no one was demanding this of him. He saw the need and wanted to ensure his employees are being treated fairly, even if it cost him a few million dollars to do it. I call this not only being a great leader, but also being a mensch.

Learn more about Marc Benioff’s leadership on pay equity at Salesforce.

John Evans | Founding Dean, McMaster University Medical School

John Evans | Founding Dean, McMaster University Medical School


John Evans | Founding Dean, McMaster University Medical School
Empathetic and Visionary Leader in Medicine, Education and Business

Heather Corcoran | Next Step Partners

Nominated by Heather Corcoran

What stands out to you about this leader?

John Evans was a great Canadian leader who died in February of 2015 at the age of 85. I want to highlight not what he did in this year particularly, but his leadership over his lifetime. His obituary from the Toronto Star serves as an excellent window into his revolutionary contributions and visionary approach.

When he was only 35, Evans was asked to start a new medical school at McMaster University in Canada and rather than replicating the other schools around the country, he created an entirely new model. Instead of having students learn anatomy by rote, he introduced them to real patients in their first semester and had them research diagnosis and treatment.

The “McMaster model” is now hailed as one of the greatest innovations in medicine and widely imitated around the world.

Evans brought this visionary approach to all of the organizations he led, including Canadian biotech pioneer Allelix, the University of Toronto and the Rockefeller Foundation. He also founded MaRS, an innovation hub in Toronto.

He was a model of what Jim Collins calls a Level 5 Leader. They have vision, creativity, humility, an ability to collaborate and can build organizations that outlive them. As former University of Toronto President, John Prichard said about John Evans, “He spent his entire life serving, using his abundant talent to make the world better.”

What is so inspiring to you about this leader?

John Evans was my uncle. He showed me that it’s possible for a leader to make contributions to entirely different types of organizations and sectors (he advocated changing jobs every seven years!). Most significantly I will always remember the warm way in which he connected with people and was able to inspire others to serve a bigger purpose. He was an empathetic and visionary leader who demonstrated the power of bringing a clear vision, curiosity, kindness and a sense of humor to his work.

When working with CEO’s and other executive level clients who are seeking breakthroughs for their organizations, I often call John to mind as a model of what is possible. I am grateful to have loved and been loved by such a great human being, and I miss him.

Learn more about John Evans and his leadership.

Al Gore | Politician, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur

Al Gore | Politician, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur


Al Gore | Politician, Environmentalist, Entrepreneur
Model of Resilience and Reinvention

Shari Cohen | Next Step Partners

Nominated by Shari Cohen

Al Gore impressed me in 2015 with his capacity for resilience and reinvention. While he has already gotten his due in terms of fame (and, for some, notoriety), his career since the 2000 presidential election offers several leadership lessons:

  1. He recovered from his loss of the 2000 campaign. Rather than holding on to resentment, he has committed himself tirelessly to raising awareness on climate change. He went on to win the Nobel Prize (along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2007. Leaders have a lot to learn from him in terms of how to fail and how to recover.
  2. He may well have had greater impact on the issue of climate change from outside of the political sphere than from within it. Leadership is not always tied to formal positions of authority and he has been able to have great influence without a formal authoritative role—another lesson for leaders.
  3. After years of being the prophet of doom, a stance which did not always make his message appealing, Gore has begun to complement that with optimism and solutions (especially investment in renewables). Optimism is an essential trait for leaders. It is believing that what others say can’t happen, in fact, can, and it is rising above the fray of fear of change. A focus on possibilities and solutions, rather than on problems, and on questions rather than answers, is what enables progress and innovation.

What is so inspiring to you about this leader?

Al Gore’s evolution is tremendously inspiring. This path of change and reinvention is one that I and many of my clients have personally taken. Gore reminds me that even when you think you have arrived, to be a great leader you’ll be called to continually adapt and grow. Where you are now is just one stop on the journey.

Learn more about Al Gore.

Julie Stein Brockaway + Julia Jean-Francois | Co-Executive Directors of Center for Family Life

Julie Stein Brockaway + Julia Jean-Francois | Co-Executive Directors of Center for Family Life


Julie Stein Brockaway + Julia Jean-Francois | Co-Executive Directors of Center for Family Life
Building Opportunities for Immigrants in Brooklyn

Michael Melcher | Next Step Partners

Nominated by Michael Melcher

What stands out to you about these leaders?

Julie and Julia are the co-Executive Directors of Center for Family Life (CFL), a multi-service nonprofit agency that focuses on building and strengthening community in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Sunset Park has long been a hub for immigrants and today is no exception: nearly 100% of the community consists of recent immigrants. They are seeking the same American dream that immigrants have sought for hundreds of years, but are also dealing with difficult challenges: poverty, low levels of education, language barriers, work authorization issues, domestic violence and others.

CFL is a community organization that has gained national attention and respect for its work. It was founded by two nuns more than 30 years ago; Julie and Julia have been maintaining their legacy while helping it grow through innovative initiatives, for example:

  • Establishing worker-owned cooperative businesses for house cleaning, child care, household repairs, pet care and other services that have allowed the worker-owners to increase their own incomes while governing their own working conditions.
  • Parenting Journey, which is parental effectiveness training that has been introduced, in different forms, for both Spanish-speaking and Chinese-speaking recent immigrants.
  • The opening of a new, community college-preparatory high school, the result of nearly 40 years of advocacy.

Julie and Julia’s leadership stands out for three reasons:

  1. They have managed to take an existing legacy and propel it forward, maintaining the character of the organization while allowing it to grow, innovate and respond to contemporary challenges.
  2. They have straddled the line between providing clear leadership while encouraging a large and diverse staff to develop themselves professionally.
  3. And finally, they have always made the goal of CFL to empower the community, not “help” it.

What is so inspiring to you about these leaders?

Julie and Julia are succeeding at something that is very difficult to do! They remind me, and everyone they meet, that there are people out there who are providing the very best level of service with the deepest levels of commitment and having a huge impact—yet managing to do so for reasons other than money, acclaim or access. In a society where success is often measured by money, Julie and Julia show that real success is independent of that.

Learn more about Julie and Julia’s organization: Center for Family Life.

Who is Your Leader of the Year?

What leader inspired you most in 2015? What stands out about his or her leadership and what is most inspiring to you? We want to know! Please share in the comments below.