This December, for the first time, the Washington Post’s On Leadership section and Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership will jointly honor seven leaders who made outstanding contributions to the public, private and nonprofit sectors by bestowing the 2011 Top American Leaders awards.

A selection committee, convened by the Center for Public Leadership and co-chaired by leadership experts David Gergen and Warren Bennis, chose the winners from among more than 100 notable U.S. leaders. The recipients will be recognized at a public event held at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, D.C., on December 5, 2011, with discussions on leadership moderated by Harvard University’s David Gergen and the Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein and Mary Jordan. (For free tickets, register here.)

The seven winners announced Tuesday, November 29, and named this year’s Top American Leaders are:

Sheila C. Bair — Sheila Bair served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006 until 2011, leading the agency’s efforts to help stem the U.S. financial crisis. Under Bair’s leadership, the FDIC also climbed to the No. 1 slot in the 2011 Best Places to Work in Federal Government rankings. (Read: “The former FDIC chairman’s 20-20 foresight”)

Chris Christie — Chris Christie is the governor of New Jersey and a former U.S. attorney. The Republican state leader has sharply reduced deficits since his term began in 2009, working closely with a Democratically controlled state legislature. (Read: “The New Jersey governor’s unconventional leadership success”)

Jared Cohen — Jared Cohen is the director of Google Ideas, the tech company’s new “think/do-tank” for innovations in international issues. Cohen previously served in the State Department, where he was the youngest member to be on the secretary of state’s policy planning staff. (Read: “Google Ideas director fuses technology and statecraft”)

Freeman A. Hrabowski, III — Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which he has led since 1992. He has been named one of the 10 best college presidents by TIME magazine, and has been recognized for his efforts to increase minority participation in the sciences. (Read: “UMBC rpesident leads higher-education innovation”)

Michael M. Kaiser — Since 2001, Michael Kaiser has been the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C. He is a leader in the arts management field, having revitalized the Kennedy Center’s arts programming and, previously, turned around the American Ballet Theatre. (Read: “Kennedy Center president creates a chorus of new arts leaders”)

Nicholas D. Kristof — Nicholas Kristof is a Pulitzer Prize winning op-ed columnist for the New York Times, where he began as a reporter in 1984. He is known widely for his focus on international human rights issues, including the crisis in Darfur. (Read: “How a New York Times columnist rewrote opinion journalism”)

Ahmed Zewail — Ahmed Zewail is a Nobel Prize winner and a professor of chemistry and physics at the California Institute of Technology. He also currently serves as the first U.S. science envoy to the Middle East. (Read: “A Nobel Prize winner links Egypt and the U.S. through science”)

Interested in attending the Top American Leaders awards at Ford’s Theatre on December 5th? Limited tickets are free and open to the public. Click here for information and registration.