Mandela’s innovative leadership, 10 lessons
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” Nelson Mandela
This summary of Mandela is partly based on Time magazine’s interview of him on his 90th birthday in 2009, but also on other quotations and speeches he has given throughout his life. Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1993. I was thinking of his fragile health right now and it made me remember that interview. It taught me very much, and I am sure it can keep on teaching others.
1. Being brave is not being fearless; it is inspiring others to transcend fear. People imitate their leaders, and the most inspiring are those who show no fear, especially in moments of crisis and sudden changes. Do not despair and have faith in the human being, even if your faith is tested along the way.
2. Despair only leads to death and failure. Never despair, have faith in the human being, even if your faith is tested along the way. This reminds me of my favorite phrase by another Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood”. It is important to remember this, particularly in light of what is happening in Spain, by staying calm and balanced, optimistic. In times of great change, having a large dose of optimism is essential. And you never stop moving up, goals can change, “After climbing a tall mountain one finds there are so many more to climb”.
3. We have to know how to lead from the front, but don’t leave your team behind. Always acknowledge what your team has done for you to be where you are. They have trusted in you, have understood you and have lifted you to where you stand. They don’t always have to agree with you, dialogue and debate are very important. I think that when you go up the ladder, you need to leave it there for others to climb as well.
4. Leaders have to do as Mandela does: keep their heads looking towards the sun, and their feet moving forwards, never backwards. That is part of the secret in that optimism that all these bigger-than-life leaders share. “The greatest glory in life is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”. And part of moving forwards is growing in diversity, in fairness, in equal opportunities. This is what he said in his defense said during his trial in 1964: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
5. Lead from the back, educate others and let them think they are leading. In fact, they will be leading. We need to give people breathing and growing space, let them feel that they can be leaders. Delegating responsibility, letting others lead and knowing how to listen is part of the secret of being a leader. Mandela “It is wise to persuade people to act, to have initiative, and make them believe it was their idea”. To lead is to educate, and to educate is to teach how to think and how to create. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
6. Know your enemy, study him, find out what his favorite sport is. It is important to know who you will be meeting on the battle field, understand his points of view, put yourself in his shoes and know why he defends what he defends; this will help you define and outline your strategy and your tactics. Knowing his passions, his favorite sports teams and his tastes will help you in times of peace, outside of the battle field, to create lasting bonds. Mandela “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner”.
7. Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Mandela is convinced that we should pamper our rivals, invite them to our table and be close to them. By being generous to them, you will have more control over what they do and what they think… remember their birthday, celebrate their successes, smile to them and charm them; it can all make them bring their guard down, get rid of their fears and their defensive stance and encourage freedom. They will end up becoming friends. “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
8. Giving up can also be leading. Sometimes you need to recognize when your idea has failed, when you aren’t right and when you need to take a step back and give up. Giving up can happen in life, in work, in personal relationships…it is one of the most difficult things in anyone’s life, and particularly in the life of a leader. Especially when you are dealing with an idea that is close to your heart and to your mind. But giving up, recognizing publicly that you have lost, that you are standing down, when giving up is better than carrying on…that step needs to be taken with elegance and dignity.
9. Nothing is Black or White. Nothing is black or white in life, you don’t always need to choose between the two, you can find plenty of shades of grey that can bring a solution or help you find an answer. The life of a leader is understanding how to walk the tightrope of contradictions, navigating between the black and white. Mandela “Why should we choose between more pay or more vacations, when if we define them properly we can have both and increase productivity” we have to embrace the AND and banish the OR.
10. Appearances do count and remember to always smile. First impressions last. We can’t change the appearance our DNA has given us, but we can control the halo effect, and the halo certainly has an effect. The leader has to have a professional appearance, clean, clear, because if their halo is affected, that aura they are identified with, their appearance could make them lose credibility, whereas a good appearance can make a leader progress in his or her career. Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico, said so in front of over 1,200 women leaders from around the world during a conference in Kuala Lumpur last month: it’s a good idea to have four well-tailored suits, it is part of her secret. And never forget to smile, even if you are upset, smile. Mandela always leads by example, giving away smiles wherever he goes, smiling to the present and to the future. The most beautiful smiles he saves for children, and that is something to think about. They are the ones who need our smiles the most, and they will remember them in the future. A smile is worth more than a thousand words.
And like Mahatma Ghandi said
A smile costs nothing but gives much.
It enriches those who receive it, without making poorer those who give.
It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
No one is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it.
No one is so poor that he cannot give it.
A smile creates happiness in the home and fosters goodwill in business.
It is the cornerstone of friendship.
A smile brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged,
it cannot be bought, borrowed or stolen,
for it is something that is of no value to anyone until it is given away.
This post appeared in June in my blog quatremots
Ana Maria Llopis