Special Report

50 Most Powerful Leaders of All Time

Source: Keystone / Getty Images

46. Deng Xiaoping
> Nation/Territory: China
> Title: Paramount leader
> Time in power/Reign: 1978-1989

Deng Xiaoping became the most powerful man in the world’s most populous nation following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Deng was a pragmatic leader who shifted away from his predecessor’s orthodox communist ideology by advocating for market reforms, decentralized planning, and more flexibility in planning goals. These policy changes contributed to higher living standards in China and put the nation on a course to becoming the world’s second largest economy.

Source: Express / Getty Images

47. Margaret Thatcher
> Nation/Territory: United Kingdom
> Title: Prime Minister
> Time in power/Reign: 1979-1990

Margaret Thatcher became Great Britain’s first female prime minister in 1979, serving as PM for three terms. Her strongly held free market beliefs put her at odds with unions, and she championed the deregulation of financial markets. Her brief and successful war to regain the Falkland Islands in 1982 from Argentina restored British pride and raised her popularity among the British people. Thatcher was also a staunch Cold War ally of the United States who forged a special relationship with American President Ronald Reagan.

Source: Michael Evans / The White House / Getty Images

48. Ronald Reagan
> Nation/Territory: United States
> Title: President
> Time in power/Reign: 1981-1989

Former actor Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 on a platform of smaller government and taking a peace-through-strength approach toward the Soviet Union. After surviving an assassination attempt, Reagan succeeded in passing a plan to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes and bolster defense spending. Even as defense expenditures rose, Reagan negotiated treaties with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that limited certain classes of nuclear missiles.

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49. Vladimir Putin
> Nation/Territory: Russia
> Title: President
> Time in power/Reign: 2000-2008, 2012-present

Vladimir Putin has been president of Russia since 2000, except for four years where he served as prime minister. Putin has been attempting to restore Russian military and political influence. In 2020, the constitution of Russia was changed thru a referendum vote, allowing Putin’s term to extend through 2036. The previous limit was through 2024. Putin’s opponents claimed the outcome was rigged.

Source: Jochen Zick - Pool / Getty Images

50. Angela Merkel
> Nation/Territory: Germany
> Title: Chancellor
> Time in power/Reign: 2005-present

Angela Merkel, Germany’s first female leader, has served as chancellor of Germany since 2005. Her fourth and final term as chancellor will end in 2021. Merkel has been called “the de facto leader of the European Union” and received kudos for her handling of the European financial crisis, showing political courage in advocating for fiscal austerity measures and unpopular budget reductions. Domestically, Merkel is also credited with transitioning the country to alternative energy sources and introducing a minimum wage.