This might sound weird, but I've spent thirteen years of my life actively looking at stock photos and they constantly remind me of how the ideal of business leadership has positively evolved.

When you're a marketer, spending an absurd amount of time assessing pictures of random strangers is all part of the job. You create a piece of content and, of course, the natural next step is choosing a picture that illustrates your story. And given that stories about leadership never go out of style, I've constantly had to dig around for these images on Getty or iStock.

A decade ago, it was harder for me to find an appropriate leadership picture to illustrate the CEOs I worked with - they were all women and minorities and hugely under-represented in the stock photography of the time. Frustrating to say the least. Another common theme among these pictures was the idea that the leader was kind of a super-human being. He was always standing a few steps away from his team - either flexing his power or gazing into the camera with his arms crossed, wearing an all-knowing smile.

This over-confidence could make you believe that real leaders have all the answers and never make a single mistake. You see, real life shapes what we see in media...then media in turn perpetuates how we view the world. Both media AND real life definitely needed to evolve. And they did!

We've increasingly learned that diverse teams with collaborative leaders are the key to success, and the illustrations of what that actually looks like has crept into our media (check out the sweet picture I found for this article!). I was doubly reminded of our positive leadership progress this past summer, when I interviewed five incredible business innovators in the fields of technology, media, consumer packaged goods, and finance. I asked these folks one simple question: "What's the most important thing you've learned about leadership?"

Here's what they said:

1. Listen
"As leaders, we're wired to have answers and solutions. Listen. Don't jump to the answer or what you think the answer is...listen. The more you listen the more you learn. " -Tim Ryan, US Chairman of PwC

2. Build Trust
"Building trust through the organization is important. If people trust you, it builds loyalty and it makes them feel safe. And when people feel safe, they'll try new things, they'll take a few risks!" -Tracey Massey, President of Mars Chocolate North America



3. Don't Be Afraid to Fail
"In the states, in the last 20 years, there's an acknowledgement that failure leads to success - that you have to learn and continue developing and evolving. And frankly it's a lot easier to raise money after you've failed once because people understand you've learned. " -Randall Lane, Editor at Forbes

4. Never Fear Change
"Entrepreneurship is a lot about learning; you're inventing a company that didn't exist before, so you have to lead into a learning culture. Never fear change. Learn in real time...we can build great teams and learn together." -Idit Harel, Founder and CEO of Globaloria

5. Create Other Leaders
"We are truly the generation that can make history and it starts with us leading the way by not being selfish. The more you empower others...and embrace team and mentoring - I guarantee, you will manifest more opportunity than you can handle." -Gerard Adams, Founder of Elite Daily and Fownders






Reading these, it's clear our picture of a "great leader" has changed - it's certainly not the superhero stock photo version we came to know ten years ago! Great leaders come in all shapes, colors, genders, and creeds - and revel in being human.