What Mandela teaches us about leadership

With all that has been posted and said about our MADIBA in the past few days, we have compiled views and thoughts on him as a leader that resonate with us at CONTRACT.

Nelson Mandela: giving us space to show up as leaders

Gareth Cliff wrote in his blog “It is an unpleasant fact of human life that children only really grow up when they pass the final test of losing their parents. The father of our nation has been ailing for some time and much has been made of how we should prepare for the inevitable.”

Whether it really is about losing your parents, or moving through adolescence and going out into the world on your own – it is now really time for us as a nation to grow up and step into our ADULT way of relating to the world. It is about leaving the nest, spreading our wings and being the greatest we can be, and influencing our environment in the best way possible.

It will be unrealistic to imagine the 94-year-old ex-president to grace us with his presence for all eternity. Instead, we can focus on what he left behind, like his leadership skills that were always done with courage and a vision in mind. This will give all of us the opportunity to emulate some of his best qualities to overcome the leadership challenges that we face as a country, in the workforce and in our personal lives. It might be his greatest gift ever.

We can’t help linking the current situation with what we’re experiencing in workplaces: sometimes, when a leader pulls back a little, lets others come to the fore, it provides a possibility of ‘stepping into own power’ for those who are now given freedom to act and think for themselves. Madiba has been out of the public eye for a while now, but somehow it feels like South Africans are still hanging onto his ‘magic’. The current phase we are experiencing might just be our opportunity to step into our power as citizens, and as leaders ourselves.

Here are some things we know about Madiba’s style of leadership – which we do not only find inspiring, but which link well with what we promote and practice in our own leadership development with clients.

Lead from the back – step away to have others tap into their wisdom

Madiba would never enter a conversation too quickly as he knows that people want to bring value to the table, they want to be heard and it is a quality of a great leader to be able to listen. Not to tell employees what to do, but to reach consensus with all involved.

Lead with the Knowledge that ‘Nothing is Black or White’

He believed that there were no either-or; wright-wrong; or black and white. He knew that everyone had their own opinion, feelings and emotions and that decision-making was a complicated thing to do, that leaders did not always have all the answers or the best answers. Leaders should be comfortable with contradiction and should always open a platform for debate. It is here that leaders will make their best decisions.

Quitting is also a part of Leadership

Knowing when to abandon a decision, idea or a relationship is one of the most difficult and courage’s decisions anyone has to make, but it can also be the best decision. Nelson Mandela understood that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as by what they choose to do.

Be authentic, thus humble about your strengths and honest about your flaws

Madiba knew that he was not perfect and that no one was, that we are all only flesh and blood and we all have weaknesses and flaws. A trademark of a great leader is to understand how to compensate for your weaknesses and how to triumph over your flaws and he did exactly just that. Once a leader starts to notice his own imperfections, thats when the change in progress will make a difference.

Madiba has left challenges for each and every one of us. It is said so well by Ferial Haffajee: “Notwithstanding the statue at Nelson Mandela Square, he does not want a legacy cast in copper, concrete or marble, no monuments or highways, but a living legacy of volunteerism and service.” Like Madiba, leadership magic does not manifest in the glory of success, the acknowledgment of something done well or the recognition from others. Leadership magic is something that collectively manifests in those special moments, when it feels like the entire team is doing something special together. Leadership magic is knowing yourself, really knowing who you are, and acting authentically and in line with your own unique personality. Start showing your own leadership light, by walking in the footsteps of our biggest, most inspiring, brightest star, Madiba.

This article is based on and adapted from Gareth cliff’s blog ‘No more Mandelas’ and Sandy Gluckman’s text on Nelson Mandela Leadership style.