Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mandela's most important leadership decision

Nelson Mandela is rightly remembered as one of history's most important leaders.  Through his unfailing influence the destiny of the nation of South Africa was turned in the most improbable direction.

For many years Mandela had fought against the injustice of apartheid. In some instances he resorted to the use of violence in support of his calls to action. He advocated nationalizing the mines, land and  industry of the white minority and redistributing it to the black majority.  His was a polarizing position...but ultimately it was a failed position.

It was not until Mandela rejected this philosophy and embraced reconciliation and abandoned nationalization that he was able to achieve his goal of equality and ultimately deliver South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. He reached this decision after consulting members of the international community and he came to understand the inherent problems with his position. In effect he stated a leader's most powerful words '...I was wrong...'

From that point forward he was able to effect the changes that brought about the South Africa of the 21st century.  By renouncing the radical in favour of the morally correct path, Mandela brought together peoples of all race and colour in South Africa.  But it took an important, some would say improbable, first step of personally acknowledging that his initial approach was wrong.  Regardless of how badly he had been treated; regardless  of how long others had been abused; regardless of the contrary opinions of the many, Mandela's confession and subsequent humility allowed him to pursue peace and not vengeance.  In so doing he achieved much more that anyone dared believe was possible.

This act of leadership in action is an outstanding example for everyone in positions of responsibility.  The belief that the 'boss' is infallible is so outdated as to be comical.  And yet, so many cling to the illusion.  They do so at their peril because they alienate their staff members who cease to be followers and instead become skeptics.  When the goal is not achievable or lacks a legal, moral and ethical imperative, the probability of success is slim.  But the vulnerability demonstrated by these words results in the team members rallying to support the leader as opposed to abandoning the cause.

Four other words that carry an equally powerful and positive message are '...I'm sorry...' and '...thank you...'

Both phrases acknowledge others and their feelings. It is always critical for the effective leaders to build into their staff members.  Leadership character is at least as important as leadership skill and these simple phrases demonstrate character in abundance.

As a leader, recognizing others and confessing your shortcomings come as  'no cost' actions. Both show that you are operating with a realistic perspective of the contribution that each person is making. And both bring your team closer together and aligned with a common goal. Practice humility and its' associated qualities of integrity and honesty.  The results will often exceed even your wildest expectations.

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