He’s a microbiologist and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He’s a professor, scholar and the 15th president of Millersville University in Pennsylvania.
But he’s also a tribal king (Safohene) at Breman Asikuma in the central region of Ghana whose royal name is Nana Ofosu Peko III.
Wubah, who was a postdoctoral fellow in the late 1980s at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research lab in Athens and received his Ph.D. in botany in 1990 from UGA, delivered the African Studies Institute lecture, “Rethinking Hierarchy: Perspective on Servant Leadership as a King and University President,” virtually on March 9. The spring lecture honors the institute’s students and faculty.
The risk of being uprooted
One of the most important lessons Wubah learned—even at an early age—is to never forget where you came from.
Growing up in Ghana, Wubah said he came from a large family on both his mother and father’s sides. Both his parents were from royal families. However, his father died when he was 7 years old, leaving his mother to care for four kids.
Shortly after that, Wubah’s mother began waking him up at around 4 a.m., and the two would walk for at least 2 miles. Eventually, he asked his mother why he had to wake up earlier than his siblings.
“She said, ‘Well, it’s because in the future, you’ll have responsibilities, and you won’t get to sleep too much, so this is when you start thinking about your future and start preparing,’” Wubah said.
Even years later, Wubah didn’t allow himself to be uprooted.
While he was at James Madison University in Virginia, he began a summer research program that took students to the University of Cape Coast. He did this for 16 years.
“I did that not only because I wanted to go back to Ghana, but I also wanted to make sure that I exposed my students from this country to where I grew up,” he said. “As a leader, if you forget where you came, you lose your roots. And if you lose your roots, your tree falls.”
Successful servant leadership
Another recurring theme in Wubah’s lecture was the significance of successful servant leadership, exemplified through his duties as a university president and king.
He spoke on good leadership and said we live in a world of VUCA—meaning volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Navigating such a world requires strength, energy, innovation and resilience, he said.
“There’s an African saying that if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, you have to go together,” Wubah said.
In order to be a good leader and to embody successful servant leadership, you have to take risks, Wubah said.
“If you don’t take risks, most likely you will not be able to achieve or accomplish all the potential that you have,” he said.
In a similar vein, Wubah also discussed failure with regard to taking risks and emphasized the necessity of resilience.
“In taking the risk, what I also learned was that if it doesn’t come out right as a leader, the best thing to do is to just get yourself up and learn from that failure. What did you do wrong? That has also served me well as I moved from one institution from another,” he said.
A healthy balance
Wubah’s responsibilities as a tribal king include working with the people for economic development of the district, as well as judiciary responsibilities, like conflict resolution. He also serves as the guardian of the spiritual well-being of the community.
“When everything else fails for the district, I’m the one they come to,” he said.
Balancing his roles of university president and king involves complexities, especially with regard to his culture.
For example, when Wubah is in Ghana, he can’t be by himself; he’s constantly surrounded by other people. He doesn’t talk directly to anybody, but rather through a linguist who’s always with him.
“I have to respect and also at the same time represent my culture. As a king in Ghana, I cannot eat in public,” he said. “Since I have ascended to the throne, I have not eaten in any restaurant unless it’s a private location … in my role as president, I should be able to meet with people and go to a restaurant or have coffee with them. I can’t do that if there’s no private place.”
Still, he emphasized the importance of saying “no” when you need to.
The most successful leaders know when to say no, and looking back, Wubah said he declined opportunities that weren’t the right fit for him.
“Along the way, I did get certain opportunities that I turned down because I didn’t think they were going to lead me to the right direction. So, knowing when to say ‘no’ is very important,” Wubah said. “You just have to look around you and see what’s going to make the right decision.”
His personal and professional journey as both tribal king and university president emphasizes the importance of putting in the effort, he said.
“It just exemplifies the fact that at all times, you have to try,” Wubah said. “If the answer is no, you go with it. If it’s yes, it opens up doors for you.”