Why was Eliud Kipchoge’s INEOS challenge so inspiring? First, the world stood at attention to watch a black man do the “impossible”.
Then the roads of a major European city were literally closed down for him. And the commentators said that the yellow line on the road was done specially for this extraordinary son of Africa. I could go on and on because there are so many ways to look at the challenge and many people have written about it.
As human beings we get emotional and are inspired by what we wish we could do but have convinced ourselves that we cannot. As such, our tears are both of joy at seeing the triumph of man over obstacles that we face all the time as well as for ourselves as we wonder when we will finally pay the price needed to overcome those obstacles.
Reading through the different articles and listening to the commentators, one thing seemed to stand out that everyone agreed on—Kipchoge’s humility.
Virtually everyone who spoke about him talked about how humble this rare gentleman is. What then is it about humility that seems to be a catalyst for true greatness?
The Cambridge dictionary defines humility as the quality of not being proud. The Oxford dictionary defines it as the quality of not thinking that you are better than other people. One should however not mistake humility with timidity. Timidity is the quality of being shy or nervous. Though humble, there is no trace of shyness or nervousness about Kipchoge.
Watching him relate with the media and people, and when you think of what he dared to do, he comes off as a confident person. He had a healthy dose of self-esteem and took on the world.
Now many people confuse confidence with arrogance. A person can be confident and humble, but never humble and arrogant.
Many great companies have failed because they did not have the “Kipchoge Mix”—humility and confidence.
Leaders fail today because it takes humility to accept that you could be wrong. It takes humility to accept that the way that you have always done things is no longer relevant.
It takes humility to accept that you are not where you used to be, and therefore stop talking about the good old days. It takes humility to stop reminding people about how you used to do it back in the day.
Confidence—the other half of the Kipchoge Mix is the readiness to take on new ideas. It takes confidence to try to succeed where you have failed before. It takes confidence to be ready to fail in front of the whole world (millions watched from afar in addition those who lined the streets).
It takes confidence to accept to publicly attempt to do better than your best. It takes confidence to take your family to the place of challenge with the possibility of them seeing you fail.
The power combination of humility and confidence continue to make winners every day. Every world champion, whether in sports or business, embraced these two attributes.
The late Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore took time to listen to my daughter, when she was 17 years old, as she told him her problem with the company.
It took humility for him to give her time and make her feel that what she was saying was important. It took confidence for him to fix the problem and then let her know that it had been done.
Organisations thrive today because they are humble enough to acknowledge the things they are doing that are not working, and sort them out. They grow because they have an ear to their customers. They thrive because they make business about the customer.
So, while we join the rest of the world in congratulating Kipchoge, let us remember what he has shown us—that humility mixed with confidence is the elixir of champions.
Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks