Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela

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Listen and learn
Steve Denning, author of The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management¸ recalled in a Forbes article his meeting with Mandela in 1991, prior to his election to Prime Minister. The meeting was with Mandela, Denning, the other members of the African National Congress’ (ANC) leadership team, and Lew Preston, the then-president of the World Bank.

In the meeting, Mandela acted primarily as a mediator. When asked how everything was going, he turned to one of his associates and asked him to speak. The associate spoke primarily in Marxist and Leninist views – detailing a need to nationalize the private sector. This indicated the economic policies of the ANC, which the World Bank feared would lead to economic disaster akin to other parts of Africa.

Preston did not respond, instead turning to Denning, who reportedly spoke in vaguer terms regarding the need for development, the flow of money, the necessity of education, etc.

Mandela listened and smiled throughout all of this, and later asked if there was a way to arrange a secondment of his staff to the World Bank so they could understand ‘what was going on in the world’ – as they had been isolated for too long, and needed to see what was going on in the rest of the world and learn.

This resulted in a complete shift in the ANC’s economic policies – Mandela’s openness to new ideas and willingness to learn from others ensured the success of South Africa following his election to government.

This highlights the need for all business leaders and HR to be open to new ideas and willing to learn from others. Having a vision is great, but becoming too invested in one’s own views can lead to problems down the track, so leaders must always be open to the thoughts and opinions of others.

Image source: biography.com


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