Dr Dambisa Moyo’s Four Lessons for Young Leaders

Dr Dambisa Moyo has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world, and she is a prolific writer and commentator.

Dr Moyo has written on China’s race for resources, the challenges facing Western Democracy, and the work of corporate boards. She began her career at Goldman Sachs and has served on the boards of SABMiller, Barclays Bank, Barrick Gold, and 3M.

Her landmark book Dead Aid explored the impact of aid on Africa. Dead Aid challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of foreign aid to Africa and offered a bold road map for a different kind of development.

Central to her thesis is the importance of a new generation of bold, entrepreneurial leaders on the continent: leaders like the graduates of our ALA Class of 2019.

At ALA’s Graduation 2021 she shared a few lessons that she credits to have helped her become a contributing and successful citizen in the global economy.

Lesson 1: Judgement is critical.

The world is fragmented and challenged in terms of ideology and people’s diverse backgrounds. Coming to the table as the best types of citizens and citizens who can contribute to ongoing progress means suspending ideology. Do not pound the table believing that you know the answers to everything because there is no endpoint in terms of learning and no right answer per se. Virtually all the global challenges we face today come with challenges and trade-offs that we must think through in a way that is decent, transparent, ethical, and equitable. Be open-minded and keen to learn.

Lesson 2: Build good habits.

Create a basis of good habits that can continue to drive your performance as a good person and as a person contributing to society. The reason why this is important is because you will face challenges but these habits will define and describe how you show up not just in the next 5 or 10 years but over the arc of your lifetime. It is essential that you build good habits on an individual level such as self-care, politeness and good engagement but also professionally and as a member of civil society.

Lesson 3: Do not take too long to remedy mistakes.

Suboptimal choices lead to suboptimal choices. If you make a bad decision or continue to double down on bad choices the next choice you make may very naturally also be sub-optimal. This is not about being perfect, we all make mistakes. It is about, very quickly, turning your tanker around and rectifying these choices. What’s more, you do not have to go through the experience yourself to learn a lesson. Look around the world, see the mistakes that others make and the choices that they make to remedy those mistakes and learn from that.

Lesson 4: Do not be a naysayer.

The world is facing many challenges today, many of which we do not have clear or directional answers for in the interim. Identifying problems, learning how to mitigate risk associated with these problems and understanding the broader context within which you are investing, learning and growing is important. However, show up positively, as the person who has solutions. Nobody likes a naysayer. The more you can show up as somebody who is constructive the better your chances of being offered a seat at the table. This is because we do not only want to identify problems but we want solutions that are not ideological but inclusive.

ALA extends heartfelt gratitude to Dr Moyo for these key lessons shared with our community.