Leadership Lessons from Vusi Thembekwayo

I discovered Vusi Thembekwayo a few years ago when I watched his Ted Talk titled ‘The Big Lie of Small Business”. It was very inspiring and contextualized to the extent that even with the South African examples he gave, I could give Ugandan equivalents that were making the same mistake of thinking small and stating small.

Fast forward to 2020, Capital One Group put out an announcement that Vusi Thembekwayo, a Venture Capitalist and Global Speaker will be holding a series of talks in Uganda. I was excited and at the same time grateful that someone had taken the leap to invite the highest-paid speaker on the continent to come and speak to entrepreneurs in the most entrepreneurial country in the world.

During his visit, I attended the Breakfast meeting at the Kampala Serena Hotel, Entrepreneurs Masterclass at the Innovation Village and the Cocktails with Vusi event at the Skyz Hotel in Naguru. My reasons for attending this was to listen to Vusi giving a corporate/high-level presentation to large and medium enterprises, a masterclass approach to startups and would-be entrepreneurs and social interaction with a variety of people over cocktails and in a more laid back scene. Believe me, the presentations and delivery were different for each and I am glad I could share with you some of my notes and bullets from primarily the Breakfast meeting and Entrepreneurs Masterclass.

Breakfast Meeting (Keynote About Leadership)

Corona Virus is an opportunity for Africa to industrialize because the world’s factory, China has been shut down and everyone across the world is looking for alternatives. However, we won’t take advantage of this opportunity because we will probably take 6 months to organize a conference about it and by the time we look back, the opportunity will be gone. Vietnam has seen its manufacturing industries take off almost overnight because instead of talking about it, they executed.

Good Leaders have to be ambidextrous. You should be able to think at 30,000 feet and also come down to 50 feet. This enables you to solve today’s problems while also building a sustainable future for your company.

Leadership is entirely context-based and there is no right or wrong leader.

Questions to think about when facing a leadership crisis.

  • What is your context?
  • What is your environment?
  • What kind of leader do you need?
  • Are you that kind of leader?

There should be a low center of gravity in a well-led organization and this should be driven entirely by merit and not rank, qualifications, age, or anything else. At times, organizations hire consultants to tell them what the janitor can, and the only difference is that the consultant will tell you the same thing for a price and in a 60-page document.

As a leader, you need to open yourself up to scrutiny and know that you don’t know everything.

The 4 lenses of leadership

  1. Understand the value of hindsight
  2. Understand the value of insight
  3. A well-developed sense of intuition or gut feeling
  4. Have the foresight to know what you should do

Build a business that has a good relationship with time. The Great Wall of China was built over 7 generations of leaders and businesses need to work towards being sustainable in the long term.

You have to find the moment to lead and the moment has to find you.

How to find the moment

1. Time of extreme fear

You have to elect an emotion based on the data because at times that fear is culture-based. However, you have to differentiate between fear and danger. Fear is an emotion while danger is real. When an African sees a snake, the first instinct is to run in the opposite direction while an Asian will charm the snake and make it dance.

2. When the terrain is so rough

At such a time, no one wants to step up to lead and that is why leaders are selected, not elected.Plan A must work, there is no Plan B. You have to adopt a death ground strategy as Robert Greene says. One thing that helps in this is to design an alter ego and this is especially helpful for entrepreneurs. The same way Clark Kent becomes Superman when he takes off his glasses, you need to do this when the terrain is rough.

3. Time of extreme uncertainty

4. The moment must have deeply embedded interests

When everybody stands to lose a lot or gain a lot depending on how they perform or handle themselves in the moment, that’s the moment to lead.

Vusi left all the leaders and entrepreneurs in the room with one question.“What do you hope for the future of Uganda?”


At both the breakfast and masterclass, Vusi recommended the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I haven’t read it yet but it’s now at the top of my reading list.

I will be publishing a followup article about the Entrepreneurs Masterclass.

Special thanks to Mugume Timothy for the ticket to attend this, Paul Mwirigi and his team at Capital One Group for organizing this and for Vusi Thembekwayo for delivering value as always.

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Written by Mutabazi Geofrey (0)

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