Go to the Head of the Class

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Naveen Jora / India Today Group-Getty Images

The Leaders Other Leaders Love: Manmohan Singh

By Christopher Dickey

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a sophisticated former economist, has played a key role in the country's emergence as one of the rising powers of the 21st century, engineering the transition from stagnant socialism to a spectacular takeoff in the global economy. But it's Singh's unassuming personal style that really inspires awe among his fellow global luminaries, who praise him for being modest, humble, and incorruptible. As former International Atomic Energy Agency director-general and Egyptian presidential challenger Mohamed ElBaradei told me last spring, the soft-spoken Singh is "the model of what a political leader should be."

best-leaders-cameron Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Leon Neal / WPA-Getty Images

By William Underhill

When David Cameron took office three months ago, Britain held its breath. The country's youngest prime minister in more than a century, untested in government, the 43-year-old inherited a fragile economy, an unpopular war, and a country fed up with politicians. But his drastic plans for tackling the budget deficit have soothed the markets, and his assured manner has impressed fellow heads of state--even in the European Union, normally tricky territory for a British Conservative. His calm managerial style also makes a welcome change at Downing Street after volatile predecessor Gordon Brown. As a result, Cameron's satisfaction rating among voters has climbed to almost 50 percent, and analysts across the political spectrum are hailing him for his daring: "He is showing himself as potentially the best all-round prime minister of the modern era," says Guardian columnist Martin Kettle. Britain can breathe easy, for now.

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Leon Neal / WPA-Getty Images

best-leaders-nasheed Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Ishara S.Kodikara / AFP-Getty Images

By Craig Simons

As president of an island nation imperiled by rising sea levels, Mohamed Nasheed has become a hero among environmentalists. In the run-up to last year's United Nations climate-change meeting, Nasheed attracted global attention by hosting a cabinet meeting underwater. In Copenhagen, he shamed rich governments by pledging to make the Maldives the world's first carbon-neutral nation. Al Gore likes to quote him on the human cost of climate change. And in April, the U.N. elected him one of six "2010 Champions of the Earth." Achim Steiner, director of the U.N. Environment Program, praised Nasheed as a politician "who is showcasing to the rest of the world how a transition to climate neutrality can be achieved and how all nations, no matter how big or small, can contribute."

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Ishara S.Kodikara / AFP-Getty Images

best-leaders-sarkozy Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Polaris

By Christopher Dickey

French President Nicolas Sarkozy may be one of the world's great leaders, but at home his approval ratings are dismal. Intramural sniping and scandals plague his cabinet. Unemployment has topped 10 percent; economic recovery is anemic. But give Sarkozy the chance to perform on a bigger stage--heading the European Union, as he did in 2008, for instance--and suddenly he's right in his element. Back then he took the lead on everything from fighting Somali pirates to brokering an end to war between Russia and Georgia. Next year, Sarko will host both the G8 and G20, with Iran and the recession on his to-do list. He's expected to push for more regulation of financial markets and a new international monetary system. Once again, all the world will be his stage.

best-leaders-jinbao Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Song Kyung-Seok / Getty Images

By Melinda Liu

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has earned a reputation as a leader with a heart. Speaking with survivors of the massive 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Wen openly wept. In early August, his empathy was once again on display when he flew to the site of deadly floods in remote Gansu province and shouted encouragement to villagers trapped by the heavy rains. The premier has also dedicated himself to reducing the country's yawning rich-poor gap. No wonder ordinary Chinese seem truly fond of "Grandpa Wen."

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Song Kyung-Seok / Getty Images

best-leaders-cowen Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Peter Muhly / AFP-Getty Images

By William Underhill

With Ireland's once-roaring economy staggered by the banking crisis--unemployment is at 13 percent, emigration is rising, and the money markets rank Ireland not far behind Greece on the list of Europe's big-time losers--Prime Minister Brian Cowen and his able finance minister, Brian Lenihan, are prescribing harsh medicine. They've pushed through austerity packages drastic enough to win the admiration of the international community, raised taxes, and slashed some public salaries by more than 10 percent. But the Irish aren't showing much gratitude--Cowen's ratings have plunged to a mere 18 percent, and his Fianna Fail party can expect a drubbing in the 2012 national elections. Still, there's some hope that his government's unpopular measures will be rewarded in the long run: surveys suggest that Irish consumer confidence is on the rise again, and the economy notched up modest growth in the first quarter of 2010.

best-leaders-dasilva Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

By Mac Margolis

As Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva prepares to leave office, he still enjoys rock-star status at home and red carpets abroad. Granted, Brazil was poised to rise before Lula's 2002 election. But the former union boss was wise enough to recognize business as an ally rather than an enemy. Under Lula, Brazil morphed from the developing world's chronic underachiever to an emerging-market powerhouse. With a stable economy, clean-burning biofuels, giant new oil fields, a rising middle class, and falling inequality, Brazil today seems to have it all. While some critics now claim glory has gone to Lula's head—citing his recent overtures to demagogues such as Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—Lula has remained essentially a pragmatist, savvy enough not to gamble his country's newfound fortunes on a populist adventure. As a result, Brazil has soared on his watch. And in politics, that's all that counts.

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

best-leaders-bak Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images

By B. J. Lee

The global financial crisis provided a showcase for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's management skills. Drawing on his experience as a former Hyundai CEO, Lee guided Korea Inc. through the storm, slashing interest rates to historic lows, setting up funds to save troubled banks and companies, and striking currency-swap deals to secure dwindling foreign-currency reserves. The result: the fastest economic recovery among OECD nations, and forecasts of 5.8 percent growth in 2010 (the highest rate among developed economies). His talent will again be on display at the upcoming G20 summit in November in Seoul, which South Korea will host and chair. Given that the summit's main purpose is to prevent another global economic crisis, Lee's skills will surely be in high demand.

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images

best-leaders-sirleaf Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Alex Wong / Getty Images

By Jason McLure

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected Liberia's president—and Africa's only female head of state—in 2005, she inherited a country decimated by years of violence. Between 1989 and 2003, two horrific civil wars had killed as many as 250,000 of Liberia's 3 million people, and displaced thousands more; more than 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers were deployed on the ground to maintain a fragile peace. At the time of her election, Sirleaf—who held positions at the World Bank and the U.N. before her political run--told NEWSWEEK, "I'm most concerned with being a mother to Liberia. I want to heal the deep wounds of this nation." Now, five years later, fewer than than 8,000 U.N. troops remain in Liberia. The country has boosted school enrollment by 40 percent, restored power and running water to urban centers, and turned its timber and diamond industries into thriving—and legitimate—trades. Sirleaf has also slashed Liberia's external debt from $4.9 billion in 2006 to $1.7 billion today. Under her leadership, Liberia is a country rebuilt and reborn.

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Alex Wong / Getty Images

best-leaders-abdullah Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Joseph Eid / AFP-Getty Images

By Katie Baker

Since taking the throne in 2005, Saudi Arabia's King Adullah bin Abdel Aziz al-Saud has tried to lift his ultraconservative country from the dark ages. He's given the go-ahead to modernize schools, has appointed women to high office, and invested in science and technology education and nuclear power initiatives. He's also proven a stalwart ally against Islamic extremism, delivering a much-applauded speech in Mecca that called on Muslims to embrace "the spirit of tolerance, moderation, and balance." At 86 years old, the monarch's window for change may be short, but he's still going strong.

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Illustrations by Newsweek; Source Material: Joseph Eid / AFP-Getty Images

By Isaac Stone Fish

The steward of the fastest-growing economy in the world, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is a master at risk management. In the lead-up to the global financial crisis, Singapore's institutions mostly avoided troubled assets, saving the country the banking shock that hit other nations. Global credit insurers such as France's Coface now rate Singapore as the safest place to do business in Asia. In foreign policy, Lee's managed to carve out a role as friend to all the big powers in the region. China wants to emulate Singapore's feat of liberalizing the economy while maintaining one-party rule. And Lee's close political and economic relationship with Beijing has given him the room to do things that might otherwise rankle China. This April, he pushed Beijing to allow the yuan to strengthen. He also just announced free-trade talks with Taiwan. If Singapore can manage to reduce tensions with its immediate neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, expect a decade or more of smooth sailing for the country under the indomitable Lee.

By Isaac Stone Fish

Mongolian president Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj knows he's sitting on a gold mine. His resource-rich country boasts the world's largest underdeveloped copper and gold lodes, the world's second-largest uranium reserves, and huge coal deposits. Thanks to this mostly untapped mineral wealth, analysts from Eurasia Capital and Renaissance Capital predict Mongolia will be the fastest-growing economy of the next decade (the IMF predicts the fourth-fastest). Elbegdorj is intent on using this resource wealth to help develop his country, still one of the poorer nations in the world. He's sent officials to Chile to study how to keep resource profits in-country. And he's assured that Mongolians will benefit from developments: at the Turquoise Hill gold and copper mine, which is expected to account for more than 30 percent of Mongolian GDP when completed, Mongolians will have a 34 percent stake in the project. While it's too early to tell whether Elbegdorj will be able to stave off the resource curse that befalls so many economies, the outlook is certainly promising.

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