3. Women break barriers
From the women who brought home more medals than their male counterparts at the London Olympic games to the record-breaking number of female senators who will serve in the next Congress after November’s election, 2012 brought a range of achievements for women in leadership roles. One of the highlights from the business world, meanwhile, was Marissa Mayer’s selection as the CEO of Yahoo. It’s big enough news that Yahoo decided to join the ranks of the few major corporations with women at the helm, but that it was willing to do so despite the fact that Mayer was expecting a baby (she very well may be the first Fortune 500 CEO named to the job when six-months pregnant) is an even greater milestone that shows admirable open-mindedness from Yahoo’s board.
4. Voices of courage on the board
Two high-profile controversies—the decision by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to reaffirm its exclusion of gay scouts and scout leaders, and the University of Virginia’s forced resignation and reinstatement of its president—may have qualified as some of the worst leadership moments of the year.
But within each one are examples of board members courageously standing up for their beliefs. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Ernst & Young CEO James Turley, both members of the BSA’s board, spoke out in support of diversity and inclusion, with Turley saying “the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse” and “I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.” Meanwhile, W. Heywood Fralin, then a member of the University of Virginia’s board of visitors and the CEO of the nursing home operator Medical Facilities of America, was the lone vote against the naming of Carl P. Zeithaml to replace Teresa Sullivan as interim president at U-Va. His public statement was unafraid to criticize the process leading to Sullivan’s resignation as “flawed.”
5. Reaching the Summitt
: It was a year that toppled the reputation of one of the coaching world’s greats (Joe Paterno) and included shenanigans from former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, former Florida Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen and the New Orleans Saints coaches over bounty payments. Amid all that bad behavior, Pat Summitt’s retirement as the longtime head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team provided a breather. Summitt, who had announced last year that she has early onset dementia, could easily be called the best coach in college basketball with her 1,098 wins and eight national championships. She bowed out gracefully, taking on the role as “head coach emeritus.” Over the course of her career, she showed how to lead a team to win after win. And as her career drew to a close, she showed us how to win again.
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.