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Climbing Beyond: Shegun Odegbami’s Playbook for Success.

Victor Odogwu
Published: April 25, 2024

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The sights are set, and the bar is raised yet again. In athletics, the eternal quest of “Climbing Beyond” previous bests fuels top performers to defy limitations. Channeling relentless drive, unwavering focus, and pinpoint execution, elite athletes achieve greatness by repeatedly raising their performance ceiling. The same thirst for perpetual growth separates game-changing leaders from the pack. By fostering insatiable ambition, embracing intelligent risks, and inspiring those around them, these transformative leaders empower teams to soar past perceived restrictions and attain new heights. The ability to attain new heights, the resilience needed to go the extra mile most especially in these times where things are changing and there are new approaches to problem-solving, leadership,  and making an impact; the need to get to one’s peak and climb beyond cannot be overemphasized.

Empathy in business: Climb Beyond

The Sterling Leadership Series aptly tagged “Climbing Beyond”, was moderated by Sheila Ojei, the Country Manager, Nigeria, for the African Management Institute. Sheila and our keynote speaker,  Nigerian football legend, Segun Odegbami had riveting conversations around leadership, failures, and winning in Nigeria.



Speaking at the event, legendary Nigerian footballer Shegun Odegbami drew parallels between leadership on the football pitch and in the corporate world. Odegbami, who captained the Nigerian national team and played in the 1980 African Cup of Nations winning squad, emphasized the pivotal role of effective management in achieving success, be it in sports or business.


“Every great football team has a visionary manager at the helm,” Odegbami stated. “This manager comes with a well-defined philosophy, a blueprint for how the team should play and conduct themselves. With the right philosophy in place, the manager can mold a group of talented individuals into a cohesive, winning unit.”


He went on to draw a comparison to leadership in organizational settings. “Just like in football, every team or company needs a strong, principled leader who can articulate a clear vision and provide the necessary guidelines to shape the team’s operations. This leader must be able to inspire and motivate their team, fostering a culture of excellence and accountability.”


Odegbami stressed that without a competent leader providing direction, even the most talented groups are likely to flounder. “A team of star players without a good manager is like a rudderless ship – they may have immense potential, but they’ll lack the focus and cohesion to truly maximize their abilities,” he explained.

Climbing Beyond

The retired footballer concluded on leadership and teamwork by underscoring the timeless importance of leadership across all domains. “Whether on the football pitch or in the boardroom, strong leadership is the bedrock of any successful team endeavor. It is the catalyst that transforms a collection of individuals into a unified, high-performing unit capable of achieving remarkable feats.”




During his speech, Odegbami also touched upon the profound role of failure in the journey towards success. Drawing from his extensive experience as an elite athlete, he emphasized that failure is an indispensable part of the process, a harsh yet invaluable teacher.


“Without failure, one cannot truly succeed,” Odegbami stated. “Failure serves as a critical learning experience, illuminating the paths that do not work, thereby allowing us to pivot and discover the ones that do. It is through our failures that we gain invaluable insights, refine our strategies, and ultimately increase our chances of achieving our goals.”


The football legend went on to underscore that it is not the act of failing itself that defines individuals or teams, but rather, how they respond to setbacks. “Failing is inevitable, but it’s what you do afterward that truly counts,” he asserted. “The greatest champions are not those who never fail, but those who possess the resilience, determination, and growth mindset to learn from their failures, adapt, and emerge stronger than before.”


Odegbami cited numerous examples from his career, recounting pivotal moments when he and his teammates faced devastating losses or personal setbacks. However, it was their unwavering commitment to learning from those experiences, making the necessary adjustments, and persevering in the face of adversity that ultimately paved the way for their eventual triumphs.


“Failure is not a permanent condition; it is a temporary detour on the road to success,” he proclaimed. “Embracing failure as a teacher, rather than allowing it to discourage or defeat us, is the hallmark of true champions, be it in sports or any other endeavor.”



“Climbing Beyond” in Nigeria:

DR. Odegbami also addressed the unique challenges and opportunities that Nigeria presents, urging the audience to adopt a mindset of resilience and problem-solving to emerge as champions in their respective fields.




“With the current realities of our nation, one might be tempted to view Nigeria as a landscape of insurmountable obstacles,” he acknowledged. “However, I implore you to shift your perspective and see it as a land overflowing with opportunities. In a country where so many systems are not functioning optimally, the path to becoming a champion lies in identifying and solving problems.”


The former football captain emphasized that, in the face of adversity, minimal effort is often required to stand out and make a significant impact. “When so little is working as it should, it takes remarkably little to distinguish oneself. All you need to do is choose a problem, any problem that resonates with you, and dedicate yourself to finding a solution. By addressing these challenges head-on, you can position yourself as a trailblazer, a true champion in your domain.”


Odegbami also touched upon the potential for Africa to emerge as a global powerhouse in the aftermath of the ongoing conflicts and crises around the world. “As the dust settles from the wars being waged across nations, the world will undergo a profound reshaping,” he prophesied. “In this new order, Africa will find itself at the center of the future, a continent brimming with untapped potential and opportunity.”


Recognizing Nigeria’s strategic position as the most populous nation on the continent, Odegbami emphasized the pivotal role the country could play in shaping this African renaissance. “With its vast human and natural resources, Nigeria is poised to be a driving force in this new era. By harnessing our collective talents, resilience, and problem-solving abilities, we can position ourselves as champions on the continental and global stage.”



Segun Odegbami’s Call to Action:

Odegbami concluded his powerful speech by issuing a rousing call to action, urging the attendees of the Sterling Leadership Series to approach their respective callings with unwavering commitment and a relentless pursuit of excellence. “Regardless of the field you find yourselves in, strive to approach your work with the same passion, dedication, and mastery that Michael Jordan brought to basketball, that Beethoven brought to music, or that Michelangelo brought to the arts,” he implored. “Aspire to cultivate the same level of excellence and impact that Sterling Bank intends to achieve in the banking industry.”


Odegbami left the audience with three clear calls to action:


1. Prioritize integrity, impact, and hard work above all else, trusting that financial success will follow as a byproduct of these virtues.


2. Approach your chosen profession with the same level of mastery, passion, and commitment as the all-time greats in their respective domains.


3. Strive to emulate the standard of excellence that Sterling Bank exemplifies, setting a new benchmark in your industry through unwavering dedication and a relentless pursuit of greatness.




In conclusion, Dr. Shegun Odegbami emphasized the paramount importance of integrity, imploring the audience to prioritize moral values over the relentless pursuit of wealth. “There are some things that are far more valuable than money,” he stated gravely. “Today, we often chase after financial gain with such fervor that we lose sight of our core principles, our very essence, in the process.”


The legendary footballer underscored that in our day-to-day endeavors, qualities like integrity, making a positive impact, and diligent hard work should take precedence, for it is through upholding these virtues that true, sustainable success inevitably follows. “The money will come after,” he assured, “but it is the integrity of our actions and the genuine value we create that will ultimately define our legacy.”


Odegbami’s words have surely resonated with many of us. Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments below – what’s your biggest takeaway from his powerful speech?


You can also rewatch the Sterling Leadership Series here.









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