Scottish Poet's Life Provides Lessons in Business, Leadership

Scottish Poet's Life Provides Lessons in Business, Leadership

Benjamin Akande

Although bards and businessmen seemingly do not pair, I recently had occasion to dwell on a telling exception to that rule of thumb.

That occasion involved an invitation to deliver the keynote address at the Robert Burns Club dinner at the Log Cabin Club. Such dinners honor the famed Scottish poet Robert Burns and, since 1802, take place yearly around the world on or about Jan. 25, his birthday. They form a remarkable legacy for a man who lived only 37 years, yet penned hundreds of poems and songs that are still remembered and quoted and that continue to inspire almost 225 years after his death.

For the keynote address, my research into Burns disclosed him to be not only a creative genius and an accomplished storyteller but also an astute observer of the world around him, an outspoken advocate for the common man and an unabashed critic of hypocrisy among those who held positions of power at the time.

In that latter regard, Burns used his talents to call attention to the issues of the day and took every opportunity to make the world a better place. Leaders of today, no matter their industry, might well take inspiration from his influence.

Were Burns alive today and armed with social media, he almost certainly would be commenting on the state of affairs here and abroad, criticizing governments that don’t serve the common good and fiercely advocating for the poor, the uninsured and the environment.

As English majors everywhere likely recall, Burns’ remarkable career included the famed poems “Tam o’ Shanter”and “Auld Lang Syne.”

Beyond them, though, perhaps one of his most important and memorable works remains the song “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” (also known as “Is There for Honest Poverty” and “For A’ That and A’ That”). Often described as an international anthem to the dignity of mankind, it calls for all of us – every man, woman and child globally – to unite in brotherhood.

That message should resonate today in particular as we struggle with constant conflict (of all sorts) and polarized views. In business in specific, as in life in general, following a call for ethical practices grounded in empathy can lead only to a brighter future.

In that regard, we need more leaders who follow Burns in spirit – who don’t fear telling it like it is and who challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves, in both our work and our personal lives. 

Correction: In the Feb. 28 Connect the Dots column entitled "Scottish Poet’s Life Provides Lessons in Business Leadership," the original article referenced that the speech was delivered at the Scottish St Andrews Society of Greater St Louis. This was incorrect. The speech by Dr. Akande was delivered at the Robert Burns Club dinner on Jan. 25 at  the Log Cabin Club. We apologize for the act of omission.

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is assistant vice chancellor of International Programs-Africa, director of Africa Initiative and associate director of the Global Health Center at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a former president of Westminster College and served as dean at the Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University. He has a Ph.D. in economics.

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