Felix Zogning: A ‘Lion Leader’ Making a Positive Difference in Academia

The 10 Most Influential Black Corporate Leaders to Watch in 2024

Felix Zogning is a distinguished Full Professor at the University of Sherbrooke, embodying the qualities of a “Lion Leader.” He is known not just for his fierce or majestic aspect, but more for his deeply human aspect. He demonstrates unwavering determination while taking care of his team, ensuring the well-being of every member. Felix’s leadership philosophy centers on the belief that true leadership is measured by how well he takes care of his surroundings. As a leader, he is committed to uplifting those around him.

At the University of Sherbrooke, Felix works extensively on governance and entrepreneurship – two research themes relevant to the university. His role allows him to make a positive difference while pursuing his passion for teaching, research, and leadership. Felix also chairs the Council for Innovation and the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. He is the founder of the International Conference on the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem as well as the co-founder of the International Conference on Governance and Innovation.

A Diversified Career

Felix is trained in accounting and finance and has a strong passion for entrepreneurship and governance. He, however, did not begin his career in academia. Prior to joining the University of Sherbrooke in December of 2021, he had a diversified career. Media is where he began his professional journey, first working in radio and then in television. “After those years of practice, my great interest in accounting and finance led me to establish myself as a professor,” Felix says.

He began his career in academia as a lecturer at the University of Quebec in Montreal, and he obtained his first professorship at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. A decade later, he decided to accept a role at the University of Sherbrooke.

“In summary, my career was initially that of a media man and an academic, to which was added experience as a corporate administrator and as a mentor for entrepreneurs,” Felix says.

About the University of Sherbrooke

The University of Sherbrooke is a globally renowned, higher education institution, located in a dynamic and multicultural environment. It offers a range of programs and a very enriching learning experience for students from all over the world. The university has long been recognized for its cooperative program, which allows students to alternate between study sessions and paid internship sessions. “This has worked very well and has given our students professional experience right out of school,” Felix points out.

The 70-year-old university spans three campuses, has eight faculties, and has just over 40,000 students, and more than 8,000 employees. Felix informs that it has been ranked for several years as the first Francophone university in Canada for the relevance of its research. In 2023, the University of Sherbrooke achieved the first global position in sustainable development (SD) in the international STARS ranking for a higher education institution. It thus became the first university in the world to cross the 90 points mark on this barometer.

The University of Sherbrooke is committed to academic excellence. This is what attracted Felix to join it. “There is a commitment to academic excellence, innovation, and diversity. For me, that was essential, it was crucial,” he says. “Having the opportunity to contribute to an institution that values education, cutting-edge research, and community engagement really spoke to me.”

A Link in the Chain

At the University of Sherbrooke, Felix sees himself as a “link in the chain.” He quotes an African proverb, “A single tree cannot make a forest,” to emphasize that he alone cannot make a significant difference.

“I come to the university with expertise and skills in accounting, financial management, entrepreneurship, and governance,” he says. “And I am happy to contribute every day to the training of the elite and the next generation in Canadian society.” He is also happy to help propel exceptional talents within the university.

Felix places the highest importance on developing strategic partnerships with actors in the field, who face challenges and problems to which the university must provide answers and solutions. “This is extremely important,” says Felix.

Felix is an exceptional leader who values his team. He motivates his team by recognizing their contributions, encouraging them to pursue their personal goals, and fostering a positive and collaborative work environment. He believes that making everyone feel valued and supported in their efforts contributes to maintaining a high level of motivation and commitment to their common mission.

Encourages Risk-Taking, Upholds Ethical Integrity

Both at the University and other organizations he is involved with, Felix is known for fostering transparency, collaboration, and mutual respect. He values ideas that are innovative and encourages calculated risk-taking. For him, the worst risk is not taking any. “It’s important that people take risks, that they propose and innovate,” Felix says. “That’s how we get to interesting things.”

He prioritizes ethical standards as well. He ensures that the highest ethical standards are respected at all levels of the organization. Felix believes that it is not only important to have a minimum of rules that are respected, but it is also important to give a latitude of creativity to all those he works with.

Helping Others is Key to Success

For Felix, success means achieving personal and professional goals while remaining true to one’s values. According to him, it involves finding a balance between achieving ambitions and maintaining healthy relationships with others. He believes that to achieve success, it is crucial to be surrounded by others and to help advance other people. “I believe there is no real happiness in being happy alone,” he says. “As often said, ‘those who have the privilege of knowledge also have the duty to act’.”

“So, it’s important, in what we do, in our choices, in achieving our personal and professional goals, that we are able to inspire and positively impact others,” he adds.

Felix has always been taught that a group’s strength lies in its weakest link. He, therefore, works to ensure that everyone in the group or in the community is in a comfortable position. “Because if we move forward alone, without advancing others, we really aren’t moving forward much at all,” he points out.

Failures Teach Everything

Felix is successful in every sense of the word. He, however, values his failures more than his successes. He firmly believes that failure and difficulty have pedagogical virtues. “They teach us a lot,” he says. “We learn almost everything from these failures, and we learn almost nothing from our successes.”

He explains that there is a sense of pride after one achieves success but that does not last for long – one quickly moves on; however, when someone faces a failure – a significant failure, a resounding failure – “it marks them, it gnaws at them.” “You think about it, you rethink it over and over. And often this can be useful for future successes,” Felix adds.

He also acknowledges that not all failures become driving factors or provide the resilience necessary to bounce back. “There are failures that can destroy you and can completely knock you down,” he says. “But, overall, failures, if you know how to absorb them and understand the full meaning of the message they carry, can be good fuel for the future.”

A good part of Felix’s achievements and successes have been built following failures. So, for him, failure has been very educational.

Challenges Faced as a Man of Color

Men of color often face a unique set of challenges, one of which is the constant need to set a good example, according to Felix.

He explains that if someone has a negative experience with a person from a majority group, it does not make them think negatively about the entire group. “It is easy to have many other positive experiences with their peers,” he points out. “This makes it clear to them that the bad experience is unique to the individual and not to the entire community.”

However, when someone is a part of a minority, they don’t have many chances to make mistakes. Felix highlights that a misstep is easily generalized to others because there are fewer opportunities to see them in action. “This creates pressure to be almost flawless so that our experiences do not create unfavorable prejudices for our peers,” he adds.

Felix sees these challenges also as opportunities to inspire and motivate the next generation of young people from cultural communities, racialized backgrounds, and minorities. By sharing experiences and offering support, he believes they can help others avoid certain pitfalls that, in their case, can be much more painful and costly.

Best Recognition – Seeing the Progress of Others

Felix is invested in the growth of the people around him. For him, the greatest recognition he has ever received – or the best recognition he often receives – is seeing the people he works with advance.  The times he feels the proudest, the most valued, and the most honored are when people with whom he works or has worked rise to a higher level. For Felix, the real legacy is when he is able to promote someone to the level of full professor or associate professor.

“Our success is not only measured by what we have achieved for ourselves, but what have we done for others. Have we been able to positively impact other people? Have we made a positive difference in their lives? If the answer is yes, for me, that’s the greatest honor, the greatest recognition,” he says. He sees this as a validation of his efforts and contribution to society and various organizations. It also allows him to continue to strive for excellence.

“The real test of a leader is not to create followers but to create more leaders.”
– Ralph Nader

Managing Diverse Responsibilities

As a Full Professor, Felix’s role encompasses four dimensions: teaching, research, pedagogical administration, and community service. In teaching, like his colleagues, he trains students, supervises their work, dissertations, and theses, and supervises their internships. He is responsible for updating the pedagogical content taught to a group of learners. “I also coordinate the work of the lecturers,” Felix points out.

In terms of research, he focuses on producing content and renewing knowledge. It is because “what is true today will not be necessarily true tomorrow.” According to him, research feeds one’s teachings and allows one to develop new knowledge or deepen understanding of certain subjects. “Our responsibility as researchers is therefore to not only produce this knowledge but also to disseminate them, present our results, and popularize them to the general public, decision-makers, and all concerned actor,” he says.

Another important part of Felix’s work concerns community service. He believes that the involvement of researchers in their environment is crucial. It is because, as he mentioned earlier, “those who have the privilege of knowing also have the duty to act.” Felix says that academics must be involved in their environment because they are able to problematize issues in the field and provide sets of answers and solutions to the problems encountered on the ground, each in their own field.

When it comes to pedagogical administration, Felix is involved in proposing, developing, and managing training programs adapted to the needs of society and its evolution, based on the demands and requirements of the time. His role as the Full Professor also requires him to sit on various councils and bodies to enlighten, support, and provide the necessary tools to organizations for their proper functioning.

Felix does not have a typical workday, which he feels is an advantage. “Each day can be entirely devoted to teaching, research, or other tasks,” he points out. “It is this variety that makes the profession exciting and allows us to avoid routine.”

Message to Aspiring Black Leaders

In his message to aspiring black leaders, Felix reflects on the powerful words of the late Franz Fanon, the psychoanalyst and social philosopher, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” To that, he adds that black leaders have a rich and inspiring history – a history that they have the responsibility to enrich every day. He also highlights that this history has always been built on contribution, collaboration, and communion with all other peoples with whom they share this earth.

“My message to young leaders is therefore a call for inclusivity and unity,” Felix says. “We must continue to perpetuate this culture of sharing, respect, and openness. We must excel in everything we undertake, and do so with openness, wherever we are: in Africa, America, Asia, Europe, or Oceania.”