Leadership Training the Nelson Mandela Way

When you are considering different types of leadership training and you wonder what leadership qualities to emphasize, remember Mandela.

1. Mandela never lost his dignity. He remained uniquely himself. We all know leaders who throw themselves away like obsequious office hunters. Even though he went to jail for 27 years, he never compromised his principles. He never gave up on others' superior potential. He never dismissed people as hopeless. He clung to the possibility that one day, even his captors would grow and understand.

2. Mandela surveyed his situation from a fresh perspective. Rather than banging his head against his opponents, he strived for unity and for each individual to feel a member of the whole.

3. Detachment. Those that came to him he accepted, those that did not come he allowed to go their own way. With this, the people around him could express their opinions openly. He did not have to woo people. By cultivating his own inner strength (something necessary for anyone who is the center of a group) those who were aligned with him came of their own accord.

Outwardly, Mandela was powerless. New leaders often feel powerless. Surprisingly, that could be a good thing.

Research from Harvard and Duke found that being "powerful" might reduce your team's ability to perform. Yes. A study done by Francesca Gino of Harvard and Richard Larrick of Duke found that teams with a leader who had less power out-performed teams with a dominant leader. Even teams with no formal leader did better.

Many people who step up and say "YES" to a leadership role complain that they don't have enough power to make an impact. Why not take advantage of that? According to Gino and Larrick, "Feelings of power produce a tendency to devalue the perspectives, opinions, and contributions of others."

The next time you are feeling powerless, remember Nelson Mandela and turn the situation to your advantage with Gino and Larrick's advice:

1.Improve communication by promoting equal participation.
2.Change the hierarchical structure to engage all members of the team.

Mandela knew the power of unity. History remembers him for attempting to bring the black and white races together with the unlikely tool of rugby and the magical moment when white South Africans took a man that they once considered a terrorist into their hearts. A crowd of 65,000 mostly white rugby fans cheered him for wearing a jersey that once was a symbol of oppression. It became even better two hours later when South Africa beat New Zealand and won the tournament.

Leadership training modules will be more successful if you include the leadership training meaning. Why do attendees want to attend? Why do they care? Why do you want them to learn what you are teaching?

Mandela knew what he wanted, and more importantly, why. Because he knew why he was willing to wait. He was able to endure the dangling. He could use the waiting time to make small, persistent, focused efforts. He could use gentle persuasion and, at the same time, be firm and confident.

Leadership training modules will be more successful when they include exercises that help people not only learn what to do but why. The following questions are an example:

When I'm at cross-purposes with others, can this gap be closed without compromising my integrity? Or theirs?
Are we actually opponents? Or just two people with individual needs?
Is there a common ground?
Must there be one winner and one loser?
Could we become allies and find a solution that permits two winners?

Nelson Mandela was a Godsend to his people. His virtues and leadership qualities make him a standard to be followed. - Shar McBee

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