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The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world
Leadership Development

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world

HR blogs
The Hummer
March 8, 2022
Human Resource Management Platform

The world has seen a rise in the number of leaders, teams and positions. This is happening because of the constantly multiplying roles and jobs. Technology is making work efficient and allowing people to do more with less. It has made the world change significantly. 

I was reading an article on Harvard Business Review that was titled - “Why so many incompetent men become leaders?”. As clickbait-ish this title may seem, it is a well-researched article. In fact, the author of this article, who is a male if you were wondering, even did a Ted talk on this.

In his article, he went over how masculinity, hubris and confidence are perceived as competence required by a leader which is actually not true. We see our leaders and we expect them to be confident but that is not the expectations we should keep. The real leadership qualities oftentimes lie in humility, understanding, reliability and vulnerability. Hubris and humility are on opposites and yet we end up looking for the wrong idea.

As a male, after reading the article I felt a little queasy because I have had both good and bad experiences with leaders regardless of gender. So I went on a search for leaders who don’t follow the norms and are counter-intuitive leaders in terms of their leadership stand. Here’s a list of them and why I think they have changed the world with their distinct and differentiating ideas.

The Counter-intuitive leaders who steer a positive change in the world

Angela Merkel

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

The Chancellor of Germany has been one of the most powerful humans on the planet continuously for over a decade. She has been in politics most her life and yet when you hear her speak, you realise immediately, she’s much more than a politician. Instead of talking about her political party and her achievements, she talks about people, unity and working together with the countries. She is extremely self-aware and when she speaks, the entire room really pays attention to her. Her speech really reflects her stand on the very basics of democracy. Why she stands-out as one of the counter-intuitive leaders is because she herself has had the disadvantage of living under a dictatorship. She has been very open about the history of Germany and does not hold back from recognising her mistakes.

But what’s more, she knows how to use these drawbacks to her advantages. She manages to use words that flips any situation to her advantage

Key takeaway: Calm, collected and amazingly charming who can use words to take advantage of any conversation.

Elon Musk

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

Elon Musk is truly a futurist who has paid no attention to what people say. His career is accolades on top of accolades and pretty innovation-driven life. Recently a news-article that interviewed him on the hiring process of Tesla states that he didn’t bother asking people if they even graduated high-school. Yes, this makes him stand out but that’s not all. After having PayPal in his pocket, he went from e-mail finance services to commercial space exploration! I wouldn’t call it inspiring but definitely not in the general category of slow and steady leaders.

He knows how to get something done and goes for it.I think the biggest black spot in his career would be the big reveal of Tesla’s new car where the glass window shattered when Elon was trying to prove that it wouldn’t. If the largest blunder in a millionaires life is a glass window shattering, I think they have had it pretty good! The other thing about Elon Musk that stood out was that he sold flame throwers to the general public through his firm the Boring Company. With so many risky moves and stand-out blunders, Elon musk is still leading with a head held high and is not worrying about the future, instead he building it in the best sense.

Key Takeaway: Has had a hand in multiple unrelated companies and all of them have been successful even with extremely high-risk moves.

Pope Francis

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

The Head of the Catholic Church - Pope Francis is one of the most interesting people in my opinion. He has such strong opinions that it broke the catholic church in half! After talking about the acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community, he has really gained a lot of respect in the world. The last time he came on the news, he was slapping away the hand of a woman who was trying really hard to pull him closer and it was fairly understandable why he did that and yet he went on record to apologise to the lady for slapping away the hand admitting to his human nature and that it is possible to even for the pope to lose control sometimes.

The other thing that makes him stand out is that he really has become a very big social presence. Photos of him blessing a dog to speeches of acceptance and peace and unity. Like I mentioned earlier, we often time compare confidence and hubris to competency but spotting those in this holy many is going to take all forever.

Key takeaway: Has a strong opinion on a lot of things that even broke the church in half and yet he maintained his popularity and respect. 

Greta Thunberg

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

This 17-year-old had the privilege to speak at 2019’s UN conference and took her stage like an angry lady. After having screamed at some of the worlds top leaders and really trying to scream people awake to the atrocities of pollution, she went back to her home country on a ship to reduce the carbon emissions that taking a flight would have otherwise produced. 

After taking such a strong stand at such a young age, she has come under a lot of scrutiny and yet she is taking a strong stand to her points made in her amped-up speech.

Key Takeaway: A young person’s anger was used to wake up the entire world to pollution and done quite well.

Nancy Pelosi

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

The leader of the house of representatives in congress does not hold back when she has to give an opinion and she does this in the most casual way in contrast to President Donald Trump. This is a prime example of the difference a leader can have. On one hand, you see the president blaming people for the issues, giving a criminal personality to many people, and on the other, Nancy Pelosi followed a systematic albeit unorthodox approach when passing bills, laws and dealing with hateful communication.One of the best examples has to be when a major number of people asked Nancy about impeaching Donald Trump and she went on record to use her power as speaker to explain to people that the process is just not that simple, preparing the populous for many ups and downs to come in the present.

Key Takeaway: She uses unorthodox methods to talk and deal with people and yet brings a sense of organisation and a proper process when executing these methods.

Michelle Obama

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

Michelle Obama was the first lady of the united states for the 8 years that Barack was the President. Now, this may seem like a secondary role but she used her position to the maximum. Truly. From changing the meals of students in the schools to convincing people to invest in underprivileged females, she used her position as the woman behind the man to the fullest.

What really makes her stand out is the angle she took on the multiple campaigns that she led. Her recurring dialogue has been the caring mother who wants to look out for the family that is her country. With campaigns like Let Girls Learn, and let’s Move! She brought the focus of an entire country to physical as well as mental fitness creating a stronger country quite literally.

Key Takeaway: Without being actively getting herself involved in politics with respect to campaigning for herself, she strengthened an entire country.

Arundhati Katju and Menaka Guruswamy

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

These two get accredited for expunging the Section 377 Law from the Indian Penal Code. The lawyer duo went through so much behind the scenes of this hard-fought court battle with a personal stake in it. Of course, after having won the battle they gave multiple interviews. But, really, the larger leadership role that they fulfilled is the way they fought. They took their personalities in the courtroom and battled with people who were against their very core values and still won. 

After winning they did come out as a couple and every time they have been in public, they have set a stellar example of themselves as well as their values that they stand for.

Key Takeaways: They fought against the law in the courtroom to valida their personal identities and went into it with a vigour that only bolstered their position

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The counter-intuitive leaders who shape the world | peopleHum

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or AOC as people may call her is a fierce woman. She is truly a powerhouse of ideas, solutions and has a vision for the future. It may seem like she has had formal education in politics and is a master in public communication but in reality, she comes from the humble backgrounds where she worked as a bartender and has an immense history in the service industry.

Of course, this does not give her the background to come up with ideas like the Green New deal all alone, but that is the beauty of having worked in teams for such a long time. She knows how to ask for help and when. She works on a very high morally sound basis and as an amazing impact on everyone around her.

Key Takeaway: She understands the importance of working in a team and works well with others while standing her ground when morally dubious situations arise.


As you can see, being a leader is a lot more than just about the qualities you have, especially with the whole nature vs nurture argument in play. People often try to categorise you into the kind of leadership style which rarely sticks to the norms set for a style because of the uniqueness of every individual. Leaders follow their own moral compass and try their best to align the team to the goals of the company or industry they are working in. I did manage to talk about more females in this blog than the males but that does not mean that a particular gender is better at being a leader (gender is subjective after all) but it also means that we have seen women working twice as hard to get to the same position as men in a world that has a glass ceiling that many people decide to ignore.

The world is not in a better position than it was 10 years ago and it’s thanks to these revolutionary leaders who took counter-intuitive leaders stands and changed the world for the better.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all

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