Humility ensures visionary leaders stay relevant in quest for excellence

Wednesday August 17 2022

With the world’s highest tower, grand commercial centres and ostentation, Dubai projects an image of prosperity, testimony to the vision of the Gulf country’s leaders. PHOTO | AFP


On May 25, 1961, President J.F. Kennedy stood before Congress to deliver a special message on “urgent national needs.” He asked for an additional $7 billion to $9 billion over the next five years for the space programme, stating that: “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.”

On July 20, 1969, President Kennedy’s dream was realised.

Development is driven by vision. Performance is driven by vision. People take delight and pride in the vision of leaders because they are better off for it.

Case studies abound of companies that were on the verge of collapse whose fortunes were turned around by a new leader. Similarly, departments within companies have been turned around just by having a new leader. Question is, ‘What is it in these leaders that make them accomplish what they do?

It is nothing physical, like skin colour, height, weight or nationality but everything to do with their mindset and thinking. The human mind is genderless, colourless and borderless.

The state of an entity is the external expression of the most dominant minds in the entity. This is why it is important that we shift from tribal to mental leadership. And from charismatic to intelligent leadership. Intelligence without charisma will always trump charisma without intelligence.


A promising entity will never rise beyond the ability of its leading minds to deliver the promise. Ignorance always causes promise to be still-born.

Many leaders are not able to take the bold steps required for transformation because they lack the fortitude, knowledge, or ability to navigate around obstacles to the vision. They are unable to curry others along. All these are important for leaders intent to transform an entity.

The blindspot effect

A handicap in potential transformation is the rigidity of leadership. Their rigidity creates a blindspot, which has the potential to ultimately render them irrelevant. Everyone has a blindspot, but humility in leadership will reduce and in some cases totally eliminate the effect of the blindspot in the lives of leaders. So, what does this humility look like?

Years ago, I was watching a TV show with my 15-year-old daughter and I was so absorbed when my phone rang and so I ignored it. She, however, encouraged me to pick it, saying I could rewind when I got back or even pause the streaming as I went to receive the call.

I reminded her this was not a DVD but live TV and she laughed, picked up the remote and did all the things she said it could do. I was stumped and humbled.

Leaders who do not humble themselves will be humbled. No one has a monopoly over innovation and rigidity is the most effective killer of what would have been great leadership.

The ability to admit that you do not know and to accept that the teacher may be a junior or not as exposed as you is the key to staying relevant because that way you will keep learning.

As long as people keep learning, teachers will keep emerging. If you ask for directions once, you might look like a fool that one time but will live in wisdom thereafter. In the event you do not ask for direction(s), you may appear to be wise for a moment but ultimately, your foolishness will not remain hidden for long. It will always come out.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. E-mail: [email protected]