by, L. Michael Hall Ph. D.
In the last post, I wrote about several of Mandela’s leadership qualities. Here I want to mention two additional ones. I’ll begin with Mandela’s relationship to time as a concept and as a mechanism of leadership. I find this a fascinating aspect of his leadership and one so needed today. In the book, Mandela’s Way (2012), Stengel says that Mandela was “disciplined about time.” Knowing that history was not made overnight and that today’s racism and repression had been incubated over centuries if not longer, with that awareness he knew that it would take time to undo it.
In conclusion Stengel wrote this:
“Mandela is a long-distance runner, a long-distance thinker.” (p. 173)
“Mandela thought in terms of history. And of course, history is the long
How different this is today from so many of our current leaders especially those who have been infected by the short-term thinking bug. “I want it now!” In business this is actually epidemic. Business leaders can hardly get their nose above the “this quarter returns” to think a year or two into the future, let alone long-term. If something doesn’t immediately get results or turn around a disappointing ROI, they impatiently drop it and introduce the next big thing. The result of this is that so many of our leaders are not disciplined about time and they suffer from a myopic vision of the future.
Yet leaders have to think about the future and especially in terms of creating a visionary future that excites and inspires people. What happens if leaders do not do this? Ah, without a vision of hope and enthusiasm, work becomes drudgery. It loses its ability to attract and excite. The work itself ceases it be valued as meaningful, so people need to have extra rewards and entertainments to keep interest in what they are doing. Then organizations have “motivation problems” among the workers.
Thinking about the future in a visionary way so that it attracts the best of people and so that it brings out the best in people also requires having a meaning that excites people. It means that the business involves more than just making money. Making more money and giving our more money will only go so far. And after that, it has diminishing returns. There has to be meaning- a message worth giving one’s best for. And that certainly described Mandela. Stengel’s book highlighted this. He wrote that Mandela was very conscious of the messages that he sent by word and behavior.
The first was a message of transcending prejudice. “I do not play favorites.” I’m above prejudice (94). Amd as an attorney, he pursued his original training in law because he belived that “Justice has to be blind” (109). And in thinking about apartheid, he view the frame of prejudice as the problem. “We are all victims of the apartheid system” (122). In saying that, he meant even the people who have been trained to support the system are victims of it as well as those who suffer from it. “I am a man of the people.” He said that he never wanted to come across as an elitist (95). “He told black voters that he would be their champion and
white voters that he would be their protector.” (97).
His visionary dream was to create a new democracy in Africa. His over- arching goal: to create a new nation. (173). “My great goal is bringing constitutional democracy to South Africa” (113). “I am the father of a rainbow nation.” (98). “Africans can govern themselves; Africa can be a continent of constitutional democracies.” (202).
Perhaps one of his most shocking beliefs and messages to his followers was when he said: “I believe in seeing the good in others, that it might actually make them better.” (118). And, “It’s best to err on the side of generosity.” (124). He said that at the time when he was a prisoner and he used that message to relate to his jailers. In NLP we operate from the premise that “behind every behavior is a positive intention.” That is, people don’t do evil things for the sake of being evil. They do things that hurt others because they are trying to survive, protect themselves, get approval, etc. they are just meeting their legitimate needs. The problem is that they are meeting those needs in ways that are not ecological for them long-term or to others. The result of t his way of thinking and perceiving is that he was able to keep himself from getting bitter, hateful, or revengeful. “I am a man without bitterness.”
What does all of this suggest? It suggests that true leaders lead people in terms of meaningful messages. Not only is there an exciting future, there is also (and perhaps more important) rich meanings in their proposal. It can be meaningful for a wide-range of reasons. If you take the self-actualization being-needs that Maslow identified as the truly human needs and drives- the meaning could be about any one or more of those: Knowledge, meaning, excellence, order, giving love, justice, fairness, equality, music, beauty, contribution, making a difference, etc.
Why is this important? Because we live by meaning. Without meaning, there’s no inner life or joy in anything. So leaders- take notice. Think long-term, be a long-distance thinker. Think about meaning and meaningfulness. Find your message that’s full of meaning that bathes everyday life in more sacred meanings.