Leadership in Africa: The Past, Present, and Future

An illustration of the African continent. The continent is white against a red circle on a black background. The image accompanies a blog post about leadership in Africa.

Leadership in Africa today is insightful and innovative. Where is African leadership heading in the future?

Recently on The Science of Personality, cohosts Ryne Sherman, PhD, and Blake Loepp held a panel discussion with three of Africa’s top experts in leadership development from our authorized distributors in Africa.

Seniora El-Hage is the managing partner and head of consulting at Phoenix Consulting, which serves the region of North Africa and the Middle East. She is fascinated by team dynamics and global leadership and has represented Hogan for six years.

Gicheha Gitau is the senior principal and head of people analytics at Career Connections, based out of Kenya. Accredited in Hogan assessments and a facilitator in Hogan certification, he is on a journey to leave the world a better place than he found it using IO psychology.

Jani Wiggett is an IO psychologist and director at JVR Psychometrics, which serves South Africa. An avid runner who grew up in a family of psychologists, she has been associated with Hogan Assessments for 15 years.

Let’s dive into the evolving landscape of leadership in Africa, characteristics of African leaders, and the outlook for future leadership development in Africa.

The Landscape of Leadership in Africa

Our three experts all observed that leadership development is viewed as more important than ever throughout many African countries. In fact, Career Connections assesses 4,000 leaders annually across different sectors. “Africa is a talent hub competing on a global scale,” Gitau said. “Organizations are realizing the direct impact of leadership on employee engagement, productivity, diversity, and the overall organizational culture.”

Leadership development is and will remain critically important to organizations across industries and nations. Wiggett mentioned that corporate and political leadership can cause either great good or great harm. Because of this, many African organizations are aware of the implications of effective leadership for culture, community, and employee well-being. El-Hage also commented on the recent shift toward recognizing the importance of leadership development in Africa: “African companies now prioritize leadership assessments and invest in continuous development programs to grow leaders who can drive their organization.”

The landscape of leadership in Africa has evolved within the last few years in response to changes in the labor market. Our experts walked us through the context for these changes and trends they have seen in their regions.

Political, Economic, and Social Change in Africa

Knowing the political, economic, and social context of an organization’s country is essential to understanding its perceptions of leadership. Wiggett referenced South Africa’s former apartheid regime, which excluded millions of people from access to basic human rights. She also mentioned the country’s current economic disparities, social inequalities, and unemployment rate. El-Hage pointed out that transformational leadership, including transparency, accountability, and ethics, has been a significant trend in the North African region.

Data-Based Decision-Making and Artificial Intelligence

Although this trend isn’t necessarily unique to the African continent, leaders in Africa have certainly been giving more attention to data-based decision-making. As well as embracing technological innovation, African leaders also want to invest in leadership development using well-validated personality assessments.

Understanding digital innovation, especially how to leverage artificial intelligence, is top of mind for organizational leaders in Africa. Gitau described this prevalent attitude as entrepreneurial aspiration for sustainable growth and inclusive prosperity. El-Hage added that some leaders question the effect that artificial intelligence will have on human employees, a reflection of their focus on ethics and community.

Personality Characteristics of African Leaders

African leaders remain strong in the global leadership characteristics of creating trust, setting vision, using good judgment, and building an environment that fosters well-being, among others. A cultural aspect that may differentiate African leaders from those in other parts of the globe is their interpersonal sensitivity. “African leaders tend to excel in interpersonal skills and show their genuine interest in their team members’ well-being and their relationships,” said El-Hage, who also emphasized African adaptability and resilience.

Universal concepts of leadership, such as demonstrating integrity, might appear different in one organization or culture versus another. Exactly how a leader behaves to display integrity can be somewhat context dependent, while valuing integrity itself is not.

Leaders may be more likely to excel in their respective countries or industries given specific personality strengths. For example, JvR Psychometrics recently studied more than 320 South African managers and found that the highest performers also had high scores on the Hogan Personality Inventory scales Ambition and Inquisitive.1

As well, Gitau commented that the generally higher HPI Ambition scores among African leaders likely help them to establish and communicate strategic vision. “Storytelling is deeply ingrained in our culture, so leaders in this region often use narrative to inspire and motivate their teams for that shared vision to be able to drive change,” he said.

How Organizations Can Invest in Leaders

With increased focus on leadership effectiveness, many African organizations are seeking to improve their talent strategy and leadership development programs even more. “Effective leadership is crucial for organizations that are seeking long-term success and sustainability,” said Gitau. He recommended a talent strategy based on personality assessment, robust succession planning, and executive coaching with 360-degree feedback.

Wiggett emphasized the importance of both defining and measuring effective leadership. “A leader needs to know what their team requires, and the only way in which they know is to have self-insight and good judgment,” she said. Leadership development based on this principle should begin early in a leader’s career. El-Hage added that development is a continuous cycle. “Once areas of development are identified, organizations could also encourage executive coaching and mentoring,” she said. “Regular feedback and performance evaluations are vital for leadership growth.”

The Future of African Leadership

Each of our experts was asked to describe the future of African leadership. Their answers showed their optimism and excitement for the rising generations of African leaders:

  • El-Hage – “The future of African leadership holds great potential. With the ongoing education, the technology, the inclusion, the flexibility and resilience, African leaders have a great opportunity to shape a brighter and more prosperous continent for the generations to come.”
  • Gitau – “I see a shift towards more purpose-driven leadership. The future of leadership in Africa will generally drive positive change to position the region as a significant player on the global stage.”
  • Wiggett – “The future of African leadership is bright. The longer-term implications of the complexity, the hardship, the inequality, the environment that we find ourselves in in many countries in Africa is going to result in people being more resilient.”

Listen to this conversation in full on episode 80 of The Science of Personality. Never miss an episode by following us anywhere you get podcasts. Cheers, everybody!


  1. van Lill, X., Stols, A., Rajab, P., & Wiggett, J. (2023). The Validity of a General Factor of Emotional Intelligence in the South African Context. African Journal of Psychological Assessment, 5(0), a123. https://doi.org/10.4102/ajopa.v5i0.123