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10 Leadership Lessons Drawn from My Travels Around the World – Part 2

By Samuel Kim

In my earlier and first of the five-part essay I wrote, I shared the first two of the ten leadership lessons I have drawn from my travels around the world. These are the two I mentioned.  

1. Leadership means paying attention to how the world is changing, and 

2. Leadership means asking the questions that will matter tomorrow. 

In this second part of the essay, the following are the next two I would like to share with our readers. 

3. Leadership means knowing what matters to people. 

An increasingly pressing question we all are currently grappling through is whether our world will be able to constructively sort out a variety of differences we have and live in peace with our neighbors. The answer will have considerable impact on us.

The global population that feels the unease and uncertainty of this ever-shifting outlook on business, politics, and trade is also making increasingly sophisticated public demands. A more interconnected world creates a citizenry that is increasingly aware of what they can and should demand from their governments and businesses—and, as history has shown, that awareness is often an ingredient for great socio-political and economic change. How closely are leaders paying attention to their stakeholders’ changing aspirations and needs? This question is relevant for all kinds of decision-makers—in government, business, and the public sector, as well as in academia and even the family unit. 

4. Leadership means being aware of and managing one’s own ignorance and arrogance. 

One theme appears prominent whichever way I turn: the overpowering reality of a fractured world. Our daily existence, our relationships and dynamics, our economic systems, and socio-cultural norms—all of these are characterized by fault-lines and division. I have worked with and for several international conglomerates, and I’ve learned that it’s easy to pinpoint technical mastery—the domain of technological breakthroughs and innovations in the digital economy—as some the most crucial skills for the 21st century. But, ultimately, I would argue that other skills are even more critical—skills that can bring an organization to life through collaboration and positive energy, skills and strengths that manifest in people’s attitudes, mindsets, habits, and priorities. 

To make right and meaningful progress, people must ask where they stand in these two realms: the realm of arrogance—assuming that we know more than we really know—and the realm of ignorance—not knowing certain facts and being unaware that we don’t know them. Even leaders we deeply admire will almost certainly fall into the twin pitfalls of arrogance and ignorance at one time or another. And because of this likelihood, all of us need to find ways of addressing our own arrogance and ignorance, not just once but continually. Humble pie should be a regular part of the diet of every leader. 

Today, exponential knowledge growth, which experts estimate as doubling every twelve hours, is creating a world where knowledge is considered an incomparable virtue. We have all been brought up to believe that, in order to be successful, we must always have all the answers. This trend makes it difficult to admit ignorance or humbly ask for information. The more authority one gains, the harder it is to acknowledge one’s own arrogance and ignorance. But a truly effective leader must constantly be aware of his or her own failings and be prepared to counteract them.