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Time Magazine – The Secrets of Leadership from Nelson Mandela
by On July 24, 2008

Time Magazine celebrated and recognized Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in its cover story July 21, 2008.  Arguably, one of the world’s greatest leaders, he librated South Africa from violet racial prejudice and united his people across race lines. 

As a leader, both with a “Big L” and “small l“, he has held the roles of President, warrior, martyr, diplomat, statesman, husband, father and grandfather. Richard Stengel, of Time Magazine, interview Mandela on his 8 lessons of leadership.

The 8 lessons are summarized below.  For examples of how Nelson Mandela integrated these lessons into his life, read the full article.

Lesson #1 – Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s inspiring others to move beyond it
As a leader, people model their behavior after you.  If a situation comes up and you appear panicked and fearful, those following you will respond in the same way.  Mandela’s learned to appear fearless and as a result inspired others.

Lesson #2 Lead from the front – but don’t leave your base behind
Be loyal to the people that put you in power.  When there is a difficult decision to be made, or a situation that is sticky to deal with, make sure that your supporters understand your actions and motives.  Having honest communication with you base increases your level of support even if they don’t fully agree with you.

Lesson #3 – Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front
It is often said that the greatest conversationalists do the least amount of talking.  That is because they spend their time listening.  Listen to those you lead and don’t enter the debate too early.  When the discussion is winding down, summarize points of view, share your thoughts and steer the decision in your direction without imposing it.  Mandela said, “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.”

Lesson #4 – Know your enemy – and learn about his/her favorite sport
Learn as much as you can about those you will “go to battle with.”  By seeing the world from their eyes, it is easier to identify strengths and weaknesses and formulate tactics accordingly.  Knowing their favorite sport and teams allows you to identify on a more human level outside of the board room or “battle field.”

Lesson #5 – Keep your friends close – and your rivals even closer
Mandela believed that embracing and flattering rivals was a way to control them.  They were less dangerous in your circle of influence than they are on their own.  Invite those you don’t fully trust to dinner, compliment them, call them on their birthday and send them gifts.  You can neutral your rivals with charm.

Lesson #6 – Appearances matter – and remember to smile
First impressions are lasting impressions.  Strength and size are a matter of DNA and not a requirement for being a great leader but remember, appearances can do much to advance your cause and career.  People who are dressed well, smell good and are groomed appropriately immediately gain an advantage called the halo affect.  The halo affect associates your appearance with certain traits, either positive or negative.  For instance, looking professional, people assume you are a professional and give immediate credibility – whether you deserve it or not.  What traits does your appearance associate you with?

Lesson #7 – Nothing is black or white
Embrace the power of “AND” and let go of the “OR.”  Why choose between a raise OR more vacation time when you could figure out a way to increase productivity to earn a raise AND more vacation time.  Life is never either/or.  Decisions and situations are complicated so get comfortable navigating through contradictions.

Lesson #8 – Quitting is leading too
Recognizing when to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is one of the most difficult decisions a leader has to make, especially when it was your idea in the first place.  Ingratiate reality and know when to gracefully accept defeat.

To read the full article, visit Time Magazine

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