What we can learn from Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan spoke to truth to power. He was unerring in his commitment and advocacy for peace and well-being for all human beings. We may not stand on a world stage as he did, but we can bring the essence of his leadership to life.

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Kofi Annan was a world diplomat for much of his life. He was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, co-recipient with the United Nations itself of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, and Chairman of the Elders

One of his key contributions was the development of the Millennium Development Goals, with a focus on ending poverty and disease for humanity. He proposed that we put people first at the centre of everything the United Nations does.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was a staunch critic of the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, declaring it illegal and unjustified.

Here’s what we can take from Kofi’s example and pay it forward in our own lives and leadership:


Kofi Annan believed that we as leaders need to treat every human being with respect, and where we can assist them to lead lives with basic human dignity. All human beings have a right to be held and treated with dignity, especially the downtrodden and those living in poverty and sickness.

Speak Truth To Power.

It is no easy thing to denounce the United States on a global platform, in an international forum. The USA is a well-resourced and colossal influence. To criticise and disagree is costly, personally and professionally. It is not popular to call out a behemoth.

When we speak truth to power, we call out actions and stories that are at odds with the going narrative. It’s the courage to say, “Hey – that’s not right, that’s not what we agreed to, that goes against what we believe and what we hold dear.” This is no easy thing. However, each act of personal courage in speaking truth to power uplifts us all.

Keep going.

Kofi Annan did not see peace throughout the world on his deathbed. He felt the world had gone backwards. It had moved away from multilateralism, human rights violations had worsened, and there was a failure of diplomatic peaceful resolutions. Like other world leaders who passed before seeing final fulfilment of their vision – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy – the work is not done. Uplifting humanity needs daily focus.

We build a bridge one brick at a time. Each act of courage, each act of human decency, each act of peaceful resolution, brings us closer to a world we can be proud to call our home.

We can do this.


Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction. With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published three books: Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact, Moments: Leadership when it matters most, and Loyalty: Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and create lifelong advocates. These are available here.


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