Challenging times call for bold leadership. The person who takes charge has to be courageous: Willing and able to lead, to say what others have been afraid to utter and set a path in a direction of change. Those are the attributes of President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis of the Catholic Church, the South China Morning Post 's picks for leaders of 2014. They are from different backgrounds, yet are remarkably similar in the way they are willing to confront reality head on. In difficult times, leaders tend to do the bare minimum until trouble passes. But Xi and Francis are made of different stuff; they want the best for their people. Where their predecessors were unwilling to force change, they are pushing reforms. Corruption has long been a scourge for China. Negotiating the economic slowdown is equally challenging. Yet Xi has not shied away from either, his anti-corruption drive unprecedented for its breadth and reach; the investigation of former Communist Party Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang , once thought to have been above the law, proves the president's vigour. Long-stalled economic reforms, among them the shadow banking system, tax and the budget law have been pushed through and are being handled by experts. Francis similarly wants the church to be clean and has already spearheaded an anti-corruption drive against officials and the Vatican's bank. He has broached in open forums sensitive topics like homosexuality, birth control and women in the clergy. He is sympathetic to the demands of many Catholics for the church to modernise its beliefs and doctrines. By forcefully pointing out what is wrong or needs to be done - as in an attack on the Vatican bureaucracy just before Christmas - he is bringing about much-needed discussion and debate. Xi and Francis have also shown themselves to be adept diplomats. The president signed a landmark climate change pact with the US in November and held talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that puts the next move in icy relations between the nations firmly in Japan's court. Cuba and the US thanked Francis for being behind a ground-breaking deal that ends more than half a century of frozen ties. It is not unthinkable, then, to suggest that the pair should meet and restore links between the mainland and the Holy See that were severed in 1951. These are exceptional men with visions that our times need. They justly deserve to be named the SCMP 's leaders of 2014.