Humility is a virtue for leaders of the future

Wednesday July 06 2022

The greatest demand on leadership of the future is to create environments where creativity and innovation can thrive and all ideas get a fair hearing. FOTOSEARCH


The leadership of the future is not about age. A young person can be a leader of the past while an old person can be a leader of the future. It’s about a mindset.

For generations we have had cycles of innovation and then once in a while someone breaks the cycle with creativity and then people build on it with innovation. Creativity is the platform on which innovation is built.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with discovering electricity. In 1752, Franklin conducted an experiment using a kite and key on a rainy day to demonstrate the relationship between lightning and electricity and the rest is history.

Can you picture a world without electricity? That means a world without all the things made possible by electricity. Electricity was therefore a giga leap for humanity in that it made modern life possible and thousands of innovations have been built on that giga leap.

The first telephone patent was granted to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 and so he is regarded as the Father of the telephone. All we have experienced since then leading to our smartphones are innovations built on the creative platform of the telephone. So the telephone was also another giga leap for humanity because it birthed a platform on which multiple cycles of innovation happened.

Air travel was another. On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made history in their Kitty Hawk Flyer with the first powered flight. This platform spawned countless innovations leading to space travel today.


The other is the internet. Today’s children cannot imagine a world without internet. The innovations that run our world today were largely built on and around it. There would be no social media without the internet. There would be none of the things that define life today.

So when we take a critical look at things we see that compared with innovations, there have actually been very few creative giga leaps, but so powerful that the innovative cycles they created have gone on for years and there is literally no end to these.

Leadership of the future is one that creates platforms or builds innovation on existing platforms. Such leadership must mentally visualise the future and possess the ability to influence action(s) that can bring that future to pass.

Structured learning

Interestingly, the creators of platforms and innovations often had to drop out of a structured learning environment simply because it was structured and tried to contain and limit thought to precedent and students confined to what has been taught and achieved before. Imagine Mark Zuckerberg trying to explain what Facebook is to his lecturers.

So, the greatest demand on leadership of the future is to create environments where creativity and innovation can thrive and all ideas get a fair hearing. Ideas once considered stupid have a way of coming back to become the chief corner stone. Just imagining that Decca music, the biggest record label of the time, turned down the Beatles because in their ‘expert’ opinion, guitar music was on the way out, you wonder how many other great things have been dismissed and buried under the ‘brilliance’ of times past.

That the script to Sound of Music was once rejected but went on to be one of the most successful movies of all time shows the importance of not limiting futures to the brilliance of the past.

To be a leader of the future therefore, follows that the most important personal virtue is humility. It takes humility to see your students and mentees shine brighter than you and support them. It takes humility to clear the path for them to excel. It takes humility to accept you are wrong. So is deferring to the brighter ideas of subordinates. It takes humility to be objective and so it certainly will take humility to remain relevant.

Wale Akinyemi is the chief transformation officer, PowerTalks. Email: [email protected]