Steps to change: Nelson Mandela’s leadership legacy

Steps to change: Nelson Mandela’s leadership legacy

The death of Nelson Mandela sent ripples around the world as people paid tribute to his life, with many reflecting on his historic achievements and a few even commenting on his flaws. Mandela was a great man – at times he stumbled and failed, but he ultimately triumphed. He was human.

Mandela united not only his own nation but also the minds and hearts of people globally by becoming the change he wanted to see in the world. He showed us that we can change our mindset, behaviours and actions to achieve better outcomes (as he changed his during his lifetime) whilst still being firmly grounded in our values and keeping site of our vision and goals. 

He went from advocating violence as a freedom fighter to a man who influenced a rigid system peacefully (initially with no power or rank within this system) by treating people respectfully, giving them his trust and thus earning theirs in return. His approach led to negotiation and alignment in a solution that would provide the start of a win for both parties. It took humility and courage to create a new legacy from the reputation that he had already built prior to his imprisonment.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” This quote from Mandela speaks to the journey we all take in life as individuals, as a group, as a team. We will fail a lot in life and work. How do we want to be with our failures? How are we with the failures of our colleagues, our families and friends? Do we have the courage to learn from them and change, to not judge them by their failures or ourselves by our failures?

Mandela had a strong ‘no, not that’ to racial discrimination: “I hate race discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations. I have fought it all during my life; I fight it now, and will do so until the end of my days.”  

From this ‘no, not that’ he forged a vision and brought a nation and the world with him to achieve it, a vision that continues today. He left an enduring legacy, one that continues to grow and evolve even though he is no longer here to nurture it.

The thing to remember is that Mandela was an ordinary man who became extraordinary as he grew. He stayed connected to his vision fueled by his passion for equality and his strong ‘no, not that’ to racial discrimination. He didn’t wake up one morning and say ‘you know what, I think I’ll have some extra breakfast this morning as I am going to influence the lives of billions today’. He took one focused step at a time.

What’s the step you will take today that will elevate your team’s success in service of something greater than yourselves?

What is your team’s ‘no, not that’?


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