During reflections about Nelson Mandela and a life well lived, one ponders one’s own life and what can be learned from a man who will go down in history as one of the greats.
Leaders from a range of organisations at workshops over recent weeks have named a wide range of iconic and exemplary leaders. Naturally, Nelson Mandela featured strongly in this list but the list itself was quite diverse. Common to all those names, however, were two factors:
- Admirable and significant ACTIONS
- Character ATTRIBUTES that made their actions seem effortless.
Many noteworthy leaders are great with words. Barrack Obama follows in a long line of extraordinary orators (studied during his early years). Nelson Mandela too was known for a great turn of phrase but words can only take you so far. People only believe when you ‘walk the talk.’ Actions truly do speak louder than words.
Was Nelson Mandela unrivalled in his suffering for a cause he believed in? Was he singularly selfless in his quest for the betterment of his fellowman? Of course not. But where he seemed unrivalled was his dignity when pushed to human limits and his wisdom about how to unite where conflict and prejudice were deeply engrained.
Modern students of humanity may label this high EQ (emotional quotient/emotional intelligence). This is the ability to reign in impulses, adapt emotional state to what a situation requires, read others’ emotions and influence others positively. On this scale, he must have been right up there.
Can this be put down to years of trial and tribulation? Not solely, no. Many suffer and only deteriorate in character. Many endure hardship and seek escape in a range of destructive ways. Fewer emerge from years of torment with a character carved from unrelenting pressure with a reservoir of fortitude, forgiveness and forbearance that fuels aspiration, courage and patience. As it turns out, that depth of character (revealed in both word and action), inspired billions, not just the millions in the land he called home. When you inspire a species, you truly do express humanity in its ultimate form.
As people, we seem fairly united in our admiration of someone who suffers on others’ behalf and triumphs. We look up to them and hope they will take on the mantle of leadership. Simply put, we trust them to take care of what matters most.
There are no more pertinent challenges to today’s leaders – in all walks of life – than the two met admirably by Nelson Mandela:
- Courage to make a stand at odds with either the majority or the ‘powers-that-be’.
- Gravitas to unite conflicting positions, voices, perspectives, roles and needs.
“Most organisations begin purposively. After time, the goals of the groups give way to individualistic aims and the institution begins to decay. A tremendous amount of energy pours into the system at one end, but the real output dribbles (out the other end).” J K Fordyce
The LEADER reminds those in a feisty team that they all lose if only some win and that reminder can come from anywhere and anyone. The title of ‘leader’ does not magically endow someone with special qualities. Rather, leadership is something any and every individual can contribute. Showing others the value of what they have in common and the cost of entrenched positions is LEADERSHIP (whatever or whoever the source.)
Acts of leadership, in situations of need, create a force that can dissolve barriers, invoke human spirit and advance positive causes in unprecedented ways.
Surely the way to honour Nelson Mandela is to demonstrate his finest attributes and firmest actions wherever these are most needed, and possibly when most unreasonable to expect.