Like many I have admired and been in awe of Mandela’s courage after spending 27 years in prison, and so I was interested to read the book Mandela’s Way Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love and Courage by Richard Stengel.
Mandela was 44 when he was first imprisoned and before that time, he would describe himself as an emotional, passionate and sensitive man but when he came out at age 71, he was described as balanced, measured and controlled. “I came out mature” he says.
In this book, the author describes Mandela’s lessons, which as business owners and leaders we can all learn from and grow – both professionally and personally.
1. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s learning to overcome it.
He would pretend to be brave but inside wasn’t feeling that way, he was just putting on a front.
2. Be measured. Control is the measure of a leader. Calm is what people are looking for in tense situations. As a young man, he was a hot head, easily roused to anger but he emerged from prison as someone almost impossible to rile. He liked to make decisions after considering all the options – think, analyze and act.
3. Lead from the front. Leaders must not only lead, but must be seen to lead. This meant doing things not necessarily to attract attention, but to be doing the same as others, in his case, with the other prisoners. When you lead from the front, you can’t let your colleagues get too far behind.
4. Lead from the back. As much as Mandela liked the limelight, he knew he had to share it. The author compared it to herding cattle, you get behind them and prod with a stick. This style of leadership means listening and getting consensus. Mandela preferred to reach results in a harmonious way, believing that what’s good for you, is good for others.
5. Look the part. Appearances matter. If you want to play the part, you have to wear the right clothes. At any political or social event, Mandela was always the first to stand up and clap; he would greet people, not be greeted by them and was always the host, never the guest.
Mandela’s smile is unique. It spells confidence. When he was released the one message he wanted to convey was that he was a man without bitterness.
6. Have a core principle. Everything else is tactics. Mandela’s core principle is equal rights for all, everything else is a tactic. He is a pragmatist and sets about getting things done.
7. See the good in others. He believes in starting with the assumption that you are dealing with people in good faith. Mandela felt that seeing the good in others might actually make them better. His premise was that if you expect more of people, they often contributed more.
8. Know your enemy. In his youth, Mandela was an amateur boxer and his coach taught him to be nimble and strong, but that he also had to know his opponent. So he learnt Afrikaans as he thought if he could speak his opponents’ language, he could to straight to their hearts.
To him, it was the art of persuasion – you don’t address their brains, you address their hearts. So in business, if you want to make the sale, you address the heart. He would do his homework and prepare for meetings with opponents. And when he won, he never gloated. He wanted to let them save face because then you could turn your enemy into a friend.
9. Keep your rivals close. Mandela never stopped tracking his opponents. In fact he believed that you needed to keep close tabs on your friendly rivals. He wanted to be close enough to see trouble coming.
10. Know when to say no. Mandela was decisive in his decisions, not given to saying “maybe” when he knew it would be “no” in the long run. His advice was that if you are delaying a decision because you are avoiding saying “no” as it is unpleasant, you are better to do it right away, and avoid a heap of trouble down the road.
11. It’s a long game. After 27 years in prison, you learn how to play a long game. He learned how to postpone gratification, whereas our culture rewards speed and impatience is regarded as a virtue.
He advises not to let the illusion of urgency force you to make decisions before you are ready. He prefers to marinate ideas and keep the total picture in mind.
12. Love makes the difference. He always was a romantic, dreaming of love and family. It was a lonely life for him - as a prisoner and when he first came out of prison, as being a celebrity trapped him. Who could he trust? But he remarried at 80 and has found love in his life again.
13. Quitting is leadership too. His greatest act of leadership was renunciation of it. He felt his job was to set the course, not steer the ship and at 80 he retired. He knows that it doesn’t pay to fight over every issue, and sometimes it’s best to call it quits.
14. It’s always both. There are no simple answers to most difficult questions. All explanations may be true but every problem has many causes, not just one. Shades of grey, he observed, are not easy to articulate. Black and white is seductive because it is simple and absolute. We often gravitate to yes or no, when both may be closer to the truth. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person with whom we disagree.
15. Find your own garden. When he was in prison, Mandela got permission to grow a vegetable garden. It became is oasis and helped quieten his mind. He believes that each of us needs something from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction.
I thoroughly recommend this book. It is a quick and easy read, with lots of meat to it and ideas to ponder on.