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Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading

7 Questions with Christiaan Daniel Jacobs

helps you in your leadership.



Jonno White

7 Questions with Christiaan Daniel Jacobs

Name: Prof. Christiaan Daniel Jacobs (DED,PhD)

Current title: Founder / CEO

Current organisation: Higher Learning Africa

Chris Jacobs, is a reputable international academic researcher with extensive experience in education and Higher Education, inside and outside Africa. He has been a Vice - Chancellor at two pioneer Private Universities in Nigeria and the Director of Studies at the largest private education group in West Africa. He has done extensive research on leadership, quality assurance and entrepreneurship and can be seen as an expert on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Wave) (4IR). He completed his latest publication Holistic Overview of Private Universities in Nigeria. Future - Ready SMART Private Universities (2021).

7 Questions with Christiaan Daniel Jacobs


1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

To understand that change is a constant in a Private University. A leader has to deal with change in the Higher Education domain continually and have to motivate staff to deal with these changes, by being creative and innovative. COVID - 19 (2020), pushed and forced institutions (staff and students) to relook and reimagine what Higher Education is going to be to become SMART and face the 21st Century with new skills and facing the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Wave) (4IR), with confidence.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Early in my career, I understood two simple concepts. First : You have to have a Master Plan for your life and career. This plan must become the focus of your everyday life. Secondly: If you do not have passion, drive, inspiration, motivation, and aim at nothing, you are surely going to hit it. In Africa, I understood the meaning of Coolridge's (1778) poem: Rhime of the Ancient Mariner of water, water everywhere nor a single drop to drink and carrying an Albatros (emotional baggage) early in my life that can block your progress. I believed that nothing comes with luck and a stable emotional and spiritual life is essential to progress in your career.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

This is a very easy question. I have a simple life philosophy that balances your life and work. Do not waste time and do not spend time on useless activities (I want to mention one very popular game played by executives, which is a major time-waster, but I do not want to make enemies).

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Being an effective leader is hard work and a huge responsibility. A leader with his style (s) and values (integrity) impact so many people (the staff and even their families). You must have the natural abilities to be a competent leader to create an ethical work environment based on quality, productivity, and excellence. I made a promise to myself that once I become a leader in the future I will not become arrogant, an important over-bloated workplace bully and I will stay a life - long learner.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

In 1984 the late Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pretoria, Professor Danie Joubert gave all 179 Heads of Academic Departments the book of Peters and Waterman, in Search of Academic Excellence. This book gave me a bigger picture of what my job at a University entails and became my leadership and management manual as a Vice-Chancellor at Private Universities in Nigeria.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

To build leadership capacity in a large enterprise (based on my experience as a leader at two Private Universities in Nigeria), you must follow Stephen Covey's Habit 5 in his publication 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 5 in short refers to the fact that you must first fully understand the concept of leadership before you can build leadership capacity. At a Private University, leadership can be defined as coping with change. Leaders at a Private University are mandated to establish a strategy and direction for the institution and develop a vision for the future. The responsibilities and duties of leaders at a Private University, are to communicate this vision to the staff and inspire them to contribute to the vision and ensure a buy–in and feel engaged to execute the strategy and direction of the University, aligned to the vision.

At a Private University, leadership and management are two concepts that are usually confused. Leadership has been briefly defined in the above sentence. Management is seen as coping with complexity. The Management Team at a Private University has the responsibility to manage the University effectively and efficiently by bringing order and consistency by drawing formal plans, designing organisational structures, and monitoring results against performance and quality indicators set in plans. An effective leader must be trusted, has character and competencies. His or her character must be based on intent and integrity. The competencies of a leader must include capacity and achievement of results. To build leadership capacity at a Private University the focus must be on the following traits to become an effective leader:
1. Honesty and Trust: People want to follow an honest leader. Years ago, many employees started out by assuming that their leadership was honest simply because of the authority of their position. With modern scandals, this is no longer true.
2. Forward-Looking as a Leadership Trait The whole point of leadership is figuring out where to go from where you are now. While you may know where you want to go, people won’t see that unless you actively communicate it with them and things you need to actively display to those around you.
3. Vision of the Future: To build leadership capacity, a leader must demonstrate a forward-looking vision and must be willing and not afraid to share the vision with others. When a leader at a Private University does not have a vision for the future, it is usually because they are spending so much time on today, that they haven’t really thought about tomorrow (about the future). To understand the future, a leader must lead effectively in the present.
4. Competency Staff at a Private University, want to follow a leader who is competent. This doesn’t mean a leader needs to be the foremost expert in every area of the institution, but he or she needs to be able to demonstrate competency.
5. Inspiration: Staff at a Private University want to be inspired. In fact, people will follow an inspiring leader–even when the leader has no other qualities. Inspiring is usually just a matter of communicating clearly and with passion. Being inspiring means telling staff how the institution is going to change the world.

The leadership capacity at a Private University can be enhanced by a leader, by consciously making an effort to lead by example and exhibit the above - mentioned five (5) traits. By implementing these traits, leadership capacity can be built and staff will be more likely to follow you as a leader. These are some of the most important traits that staff look for in their leader at a Private University. By exhibiting them on a regular basis, you will be able to grow your influence as a leader and build leadership capacity at a Private University.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

The old saying at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. It is easier to move or shift a graveyard than a university. You never know you many friends the dead still have and your changes as innovations will lead to nothing. In spite of negative people and experiences, you must demonstrate the zeal and moral courage to make positive changes at an institution (modern universities) today seen and managed as enterprises.

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