7 Things Mandela Taught Me About Leadership
Category : Positive Psychology
I never met him in person, nor did I need to, you don’t need to be personally in touch with someone to learn from them. So here goes:
- Humility and courage is the stuff of great leadership
Although often considered a weakness, humility is what makes great leaders able to influence people’s hearts rather than their minds, earning respect rather than fear and being able to cultivate great loyalty from followers. At the same time you must be courageous, able to run towards a fearful situation rather than away from it. You won’t have much influence if you are a humble coward. Mandela showed this many times in his dealings with the Apartheid government
- Embody Loyalty and Integrity
A few times while in prison, Mandela was offered a chance to leave jail with certain conditions. He refused simply because this would have been disloyal to his party, his cause and it would have been a compromise of his principles.
- Lead from behind
Nelson always consulted, I actually felt, while reading his biography ‘The Long Walk to Freedom’ that he consulted a little too much. Even when a decision seemed obvious, he preferred to consult. This behavior makes a team more united, the team members feel more valued and therefore they become far more loyal to their leader.
- A great mentor goes a long way
Albertina Sisulu. More than one road is named after her in South Africa. Walter Sisulu, her husband was Nelson Mandela’s mentor. The joke often went ‘Without Walter, I would have never gone to prison.’ Nelson Mandela rarely made any big decision without consulting Walter. Although like I wrote last time, you may not get a perfect mentor, in leadership, it’s good to have someone older and wiser to go to for advice. It can be an older friend, your grandmother, family friend, uncle, aunt or parent. They don’t need to be educated or even know business. They already have high qualification and experience in human relations. And what is leadership but human relations?
- You don’t need to be 100% ready to start
After realizing that armed conflict was inevitable (no I don’t support armed conflict because, among other reasons, innocent women and children suffer a lot), Mandela went straight into training for guerrilla welfare outside South Afria. He was not even half way through this program when he was called back and had to start executing the little he learned, learning more along the way.
- Forgive, Forgive and forgive some more
For close to three decades, I belonged to the Watch Tower society. For 9years, I was a baptized Jehovah’s Witness. After an experience that lead me to believe this is not what I thought it was, I quit. As per Watch Tower policy, any person who leaves must be shunned, avoided, treated like a plague, a wicked person and labeled an apostate. Let me be quick to say I sincerely believe these are nice, well meaning people subjected to lots of dogma. Let me be also quick to say not everyone of them follows this rule, which is such a breath of fresh air. Regardless, this particular rule really does stink of cold heartedness, highly contrary to Christina love. Sadly, it has tone families and life-long friendships, causing a lot of unnecessary emotional turmoil. I have suffered a share of this. It’s a story for another day. Suffice to say it is by far my biggest challenge to forgive. The situation easily renders itself to bitterness and resentment. But Nelson Mandela said ‘resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it kills your enemy.’ So yes, I do learn a lot about forgiveness from a man who had 27years of his life taken away, unable to bury his dead son, unable to bury his dead mother due to man-made rules.
- Sometimes you must show that you are the leader, the boss
Although Mandela almost never made any decision without consulting his team or adviser, he did make one notable exception. This was after he was transferred from Robben Island. He started secret negotiations with the government contrary to his team’s recommendations including that of his best friend Oliver Tambo. So as a leader, sometimes you must act fast, alone, without getting permission or advice, hope it goes well and hope your team will understand, respect and if necessary forgive you later.
I could list the top 5 or the top 3 leaders I learn from, this name would still make it on my list.
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