There’s a lot that will be said about one of the world’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela, as he travels the seemingly inexorable path towards the end of his life. Certainly an inspiration for his countrymen, Africa and the rest of the world, but what can we, less able, less moral, less determined mortals, learn from his achievements?
In fact, this is the eternal dilemma the great and the good pose for those of us that are more average. I agree with the argument that we all have it within ourselves to be anything we want to be, but can we all be ‘Nelson Mandelas’? The proposition is that we could be, so why aren’t we?
The answer is that ‘other stuff’ gets in the way: our fears, our discomforts and our self-indulgences. We develop habits and excuses and rationalise them as reasons. However, leadership, especially in business, means that we have accepted responsibility for others and their families. The dilemma is then how far we are prepared to go to live up to that responsibility.
What Nelson Mandela demonstrates is that we each do this in our own way. Some people give their lives as soldiers for their country. Others sacrifice personal wealth to work in charitable organisations. Some devote their efforts to building businesses that generate wealth. Nelson Mandela accepted the position of figurehead and used steadfast integrity, personal sacrifice and humility as a way of exercising influence in an unfair and corrupt society.
However, the important point is NOT that we have to be like Nelson Mandela or even other high profile or ‘hero’ leaders, but that we take our responsibilities seriously. We should question whether we are over-promising or under-achieving, being complacent, or stifling those in our organisations to contribute their best.
At the very least, we should be doing something to ensure that it is not us that is holding our businesses back.
This requires, of course, an investment in you, the leader. Yet this is probably the most under-invested area in your business, especially SMEs. Ironic eh!