Ali On Leadership


“If the measure of greatness is to gladden the heart of every human being on the face of the earth, then he truly was the greatest. In every way, he was the bravest, the kindest, and the most excellent of men” — Bob Dylan on Muhammad Ali

We lost one of the most incredible individuals in our lifetime with the passing of the great Muhammad Ali. A true giant. A man who taught us through his actions, flair, and words that sometimes things need to be shaken up. (President Obama said, “He shook up the world and the world’s better for it.”) He taught us how to lead a life of dignity in the face of tremendous adversity due to his long time health issues and how he stepped out with courageous core beliefs that were not popular at that time.

He taught us in countless ways how to be better leaders, teachers, coaches, and even friends. His voice for social justice allowed him to be a champion far beyond the boxing ring. As we reflect on this lifetime of mountainous accomplishments by “The Greatest,” there are some applicable lessons about leadership, coaching, and swagger to note.


Ali possessed the most gargantuan ability to dream big and visualize his desired end result on the big stage. He instilled that passion throughout his  boxing career and it appeared to be a contagious spirit that he possessed. We should teach those around us to dream big whether they are our children,  students or our team.

Ali set his sights on a goal that was a gold standard and that focus allowed  him to be the champion he would become. If we possess small dreams we will never attain the greatness we are all capable of.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” — Muhammad Ali


When Ali burst onto the scene, nobody had ever seen anything like him. He was obviously a marvelously gifted athlete but he had a sense of show business and playfulness that differentiated him from the crowd. It was proud and loud but it was clearly colorful, entertaining and genuine.

We are in the business of entertainment and as we lead and coach our teams we can’t forgot about what Ali taught us, about our brand equity (whether personal or professional). Even as his health continued to deteriorate, he never lost that childlike attitude which made those around him feel more comfortable.

The photo album of his life includes so many moments of honesty when he wasn’t just flicking the “Playful” switch (watch his appearance with Sly Stone on The Mike Douglas Show and you’ll see such a truthful appearance that it will make you squirm). The moments with the Beatles and his toying with Howard Cosell’s dead-animal hair piece were priceless.

In his later years, even with declining health, he still had the eyes of the champion, lighting the Olympic torch or standing with a young student in Afghanistan as a guest of The United Nations. Parkinson’s had chopped away at his health but not his spirit. Nobody stood out in our lifetime as did Ali.

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.” — Muhammad Ali


The resilience of a champion is one of the greatest testaments to leadership  excellence. Whether it was in the fight ring or three decades of dealing with Parkinson’s disease, Muhammad Ali taught us the importance of resilience. Resilience and courage are a powerful combination that we need to keep as a high priority as managers, leaders, and coaches, just as in our personal life as a father or husband. It is at the core of what separates us from the rest of the pack.

As we think of every battle or struggle that we will face, the monumental life of Muhammad Ali can inspire us to greatness.

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” —  Muhammad Ali

Buzz Knight is the Vice President of Program Development for Greater Media. Knight was named among “Best Programmers” by Radio Ink Magazine in 2007 and 2010. He has served on the programming subcommittee of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and is currently a member of the Nielsen Radio Advisory Council and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) COLRAM Committee. He can be reached at [email protected]


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