Leading like Madiba

As the world has reflected on one of its great one of the characteristics that Nelson Mandela displayed that has come up over and over again has been the fact that he changed over time. Despite holding very strong opinions and positions he was open to those of others – even those diametrically opposed to his own – and if, as he listened and engaged with others, an argument was presented that showed a better position, he would adapt or even change his own position.

He displayed the 2 principle characteristics of great leaders – he was both opinionated and he was persuadable.

Leaders need to know what they stand for, they need to develop and hold to well thought through and well defined positions. There is nothing worse than a leader who simply goes with the flow; I would in fact argue that such a person cannot be a leader. But leaders also need to recognise that they seldom, if ever, lead alone – and where they are leading will, by default, bring them into contact with those who disagree with them.

A good leader listens at least as much as they speak – and they listen openly; they listen with the intention of build and not the intention to destroy. A good leader continually aims to build a better position and opinion as they are faced with different or new ideas and opinions. In their engagement with others they seek to discover a joint position that is better than either of the starting points.

This is what Mandela did. His position moved during his years in prison and especially as he began to engage with both his own and those he opposed. He sought a better position than either party began with – he looked forward and not backwards. His strengths were his ability to develop well established positions as well as his ability to engage openly with others and where necessary move his own, and their position forward.

The world needs more leaders like this.

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