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07.21.08

Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership

Nelson Mandela
Richard Stengel has assembled from his time spent with and observing Nelson Mandela, a Time magazine article, Mandela: His 8 Lessons of Leadership. In brief, the 8 lessons are:
  1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it's inspiring others to move beyond it
    "I can't pretend that I'm brave and that I can beat the whole world." But as a leader, you cannot let people know. "You must put up a front." He knew that he was a model for others, and that gave him the strength to triumph over his own fear.
  2. Lead from the front — but don't leave your base behind
    For Mandela, refusing to negotiate was about tactics, not principles. Throughout his life, he has always made that distinction. His unwavering principle — the overthrow of apartheid and the achievement of one man, one vote — was immutable, but almost anything that helped him get to that goal he regarded as a tactic. He is the most pragmatic of idealists.
  3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front
    Mandela loved to reminisce about his boyhood and his lazy afternoons herding cattle. "You know," he would say, "you can only lead them from behind." He would then raise his eyebrows to make sure I got the analogy. The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. "It is wise," he said, "to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea."
  4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport
    As far back as the 1960s, Mandela began studying Afrikaans, the language of the white South Africans who created apartheid. His comrades in the ANC teased him about it, but he wanted to understand the Afrikaner's worldview; he knew that one day he would be fighting them or negotiating with them, and either way, his destiny was tied to theirs. He even brushed up on his knowledge of rugby, the Afrikaners' beloved sport, so he would be able to compare notes on teams and players.
  5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer
    Mandela is a man of invincible charm — and he has often used that charm to even greater effect on his rivals than on his allies. He cherished loyalty, but he was never obsessed by it. After all, he used to say, "people act in their own interest." It was simply a fact of human nature, not a flaw or a defect. The flip side of being an optimist — and he is one — is trusting people too much. But Mandela recognized that the way to deal with those he didn't trust was to neutralize them with charm.
  6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile
    When Mandela was running for the presidency in 1994, he knew that symbols mattered as much as substance. He was never a great public speaker, and people often tuned out what he was saying after the first few minutes. But more important was that dazzling, beatific, all-inclusive smile. For white South Africans, the smile symbolized Mandela's lack of bitterness and suggested that he was sympathetic to them. To black voters, it said, I am the happy warrior, and we will triumph.
  7. Nothing is black or white
    Mandela is comfortable with contradiction. As a politician, he was a pragmatist who saw the world as infinitely nuanced. Every problem has many causes. Mandela's calculus was always, What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?
  8. Quitting is leading too
    Knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make. He knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do.

I thought the eighth lesson – Quitting is leading too – was an important point. Moving in a new direction from what has or hasn’t been working is usually a very difficult thing to do, but often necessary in order to stay relevant. The full article is full of great antidotes from the life of Mandela. Nelson Mandela celebrated his ninetieth birthday last week.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:25 PM
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