President Dekle Speaks on Her Leadership Style, Expectations

On August 11, President Dawn Dekle, charting a new direction for the University, began her presentation on leadership with this quote by Oscar Wilde: “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”  That was her fourth town hall address to the University community.


The President urged the audience not to give up on anybody. “As we go forward as a learning community, keep in mind that the people who you hold on to as saints are human; they will make mistakes…Next time you see each other on campus, smile.” 

The concept of leadership as the ability to capture the imagination of others appeals most to the president.  “It is not magnetic personality.  This is not a popularity contest.  It is also not about making friends and influencing people.  Influence is part of leadership, but not everything.”

The presentation included a series of clips, one of which was that of Colin Powell, a general and former US Secretary of State. The President supports Powell’s notion of creating trust within an organization, and also his insightful comment about how you know you are a leader when people follow you simply out of curiosity. 

One of her favorite definitions of leadership is that of lifting up a person’s vision to higher sights, raising a person’s performance to a higher standard, and building a personality beyond its normal limitations.  “It means you have to get out of your comfort zone.  A leader has to move the group outside the comfort zones, but not so far outside that you reach your terror zone.  You grow when you are outside your comfort zone, but you shut down if you go too far outside of your comfort zone.” 

The President compared this to the “Salaam Dunk” basketball documentary that she screened last week, a short film illustrating such leadership traits.  She said that the takeaway lesson is that, “The gift of your time is the most significant gift you can give anybody.  It is not your money.  It is your attention, your general interest in other people.  It is about showing up and being present.  He (the American basketball coach in the award-winning documentary) gave 110%.  You saw it; being the coach took a chunk out of his heart.”

President Dekle also brought kindness into the picture.  “If your action inspires others to dream more, learn more and become more, you are a leader.  How do you do this?  For me kindness is incredibly important.  People think kindness is a weakness.  I tell you what: kindness is the strongest thing there is.  So, I’m always looking for kindness.”


Looking at the available opportunities, President Dekle listed Nigeria among the next four countries to watch, which are called the MINT countries, which also includes Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey.  “Do you know of these four countries, only one of them has net exports -- Nigeria?”

By 2050, Nigeria will be the ninth largest economy in the world and the third largest in population after India and China.  With 44 percent of its population less than 15 years old,

President Dekle believes that there is potential in this huge youth segment.  “There are not enough universities in Nigeria to educate all of them.  We are in a prime position to take the best students and make them the leaders of this amazing country…Our University has the opportunity to educate those movers and shakers to set their mindset as lifelong learners.”

The presentation was wrapped up with a brilliant TedTalk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the dangers of what she called ‘the Single Story’. Chimamanda, drawing from personal and contemporary anecdotes, exposed the fallacy and inaccuracies of stereotyping people and whole groups. The lessons were enormous, not least the need for better information and understanding of people before drawing conclusions, especially for someone in a leadership position, who has to make sound decisions with accountability and consequences.

By Omorogbe Omorogiuwa

American University of Nigeria
98 Lamido Zubairu Way
Yola Township bypass
PMB 2250, Yola
Adamawa State, Nigeria

Tel: +234 805 200 2962



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