Alex Ihama Billboard - Muhammad Ali

10 Leadership Lessons From Muhammad Ali By Alex Ihama

Alex Ihama Billboard - Muhammad Ali

On June 3rd, 2016, one of the world’s greatest boxer and humanitarian to have ever lived passed on peacefully.

Indisputably the greatest boxer, if not athlete to have ever lived, Ali is often considered to have been larger than life.

While many of the celebrity deaths of late have been scandalous, with most basically committing suicide either directly or indirectly through the abuse of drugs and alcohol, Ali passed away respectfully and honourably.

Ali got to the peak of his existence in his craft of boxing, became a living legend for many decades, and lived life to the fullest to the extent of planning his own funeral, and passing on as a hero – truly an embodiment of greatness.

I was fortunate to have met his family two years ago in a ceremony where he was honoured in absentia by The King Centre in Atlanta. My host was Dr. Bernice King, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and this award was presented to a selected few iconic leaders who “exemplify excellence in leadership and a commitment to social responsibility in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Without a question, Muhammad Ali met this requirement many times over.
As a leadership consultant, speaker, trainer, coach and mentor, I cannot help but examine his life very closely to identify his top leadership qualities, some of the characteristics that made him the champion of the world in every area he ventured into. What do you think made Muhammad Ali truly the greatest of all time?

Here are some of the remarkable characteristics I discovered, which are in perfect harmony with the ones I shared in my latest book, The Mystique of Leadership. Chapter 4 of the book is titled, The Leadership Manifesto. In it, I shared Ten Characteristics of Exceptional Leaders, based on the lives of iconic leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

The ten leadership qualities I will be sharing in this series of Leadership Masterclass are indisputable regardless of race, religion, gender, culture or socio-economic status; indispensable in the leadership of political, academic, religious, corporate organizations; and invaluable to every person, whether you hold a position of authority or not.

“Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.” (Thomas Carlyle)
Conviction simply means belief, but, fixed, firm and hardened. It means to have and consistently apply a specific set of values that are non-negotiable in everything you think, say and do, a belief system that is invaluable and indispensable to you and with which you view yourself and the world. Convictions are profound and absolute.

Ali was known for a couple of convictions globally, with the most predominant one being that everything is possible. He thought like this, spoke like this, fought like this, lived like this and definitely died like this.
Here are his words:“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Another conviction he was globally acclaimed for was that the Vietnam War was absolutely wrong and immoral. Like many people of his time, Ali believed the war was unjustified and an act of bully. But he was the only celebrity who believed it to the extent of laying down his professional titles and personal freedom for it. According to one reporter, “Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the larger counterculture generation.”

On June 20th, 1967, because of this conviction, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years and sentenced to five years in prison. While he stayed out of prison pending an appeal that was eventually overturned in 1971, Ali continued to perform wonders in and out of the ring based on his admirable convictions about life and everything else.
Many people may have known Ali for his extraordinary bouts in the boxing ring and his remarkable ability to weave words captivatingly, but behind all his achievements are a series of convictions that fueled his passion for life. He did not mince his words against the oppression of anyone for their religion, race, gender or socio-economic status.

So what are your convictions? What are the principles you have identified and willing to hold on to until death do you part? What beliefs are guiding your decisions and directing your thought process? You may get away with no conviction if you choose to live a mundane life, but not as a leader. In fact, I often advise my clients, students and audiences to not accept positions of authority until they have identified the convictions they are willing to die for.

As I wrote in my book, The Mystique of Leadership, “Nothing gives you the right to lead as much as the sacrifice you are willing to make, for it is what you are willing to give up that will make others to increase their support and dedication to your vision.” Indeed, a leader who has no convictions is merely a follower in disguise.

Your role as a leader is to excite people about a vision and then inspire and influence them to discover their purpose in it. But first and foremost, you must embody the virtues that would make the vision attractive to others.

After being in the leadership arena for decades, speaking to thousands of people every year in many countries around the world, I wrote in my book, The Mystique of Leadership that “People don’t follow people. They follow examples, dreams and visions. To be a leader requires you to be an example, a dreamer and a visionary.”

Muhammad Ali certainly was.
Are you?

Alex Ihama Billboard - Leadership and Convictions

As leaders would and should, take the time to share your comments about convictions. Perhaps, you have an experience or nugget of wisdom about the impact of leadership with or without convictions?

Did you initially consider the implications of convictions in leadership or is there something you suggest is either added or amended in this article? What is the impact of convictions in your relationships, business and other areas of life, including your marriage, parenting and spirituality?

What other lesson do you think the world can learn from Muhammad Ali?

Thanks for reading this article and for participating in our Leadership Masterclass and hope to hear back from you.

If you would like any of these messages delivered in your corporation, church, community, college or government anywhere in the world, or would like to consult with me on how to build an organizational culture that is reflective of these principles, send an email to or call +1-416-902-6672.

If you wish to order your copy of The Mystique of Leadership, click here.

Alex Ihama is a global leadership and management consultant with over two decades of experience in enabling governments, corporations, churches, communities and schools to develop the capacity and abilities they require to achieve stringent goals and objectives. An executive coach to politicians, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes and a host of elite clients, Ihama travels the world extensively each year to inspire thousands with his messages of greatness, hope, organizational success, leadership and personal accountability. More information can be found at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *