Barack Obama was the only Western leader to give an address at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. It received a fantastic response and was possibly the best speech of his life. Some say that it could yet rank with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”.
What made it great provides lessons for us all. It wasn’t his fulsome praise of Mandela or the charting of his life that had the real impact, but the humility and principles he brought to it plus the hard questions he posed for all in high office; including himself:
“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
We all do it – think of ourselves first that is. But the important point is the length of time we take to spot it, and then what we do about it. And in general, this should be guided by our core principles. As Obama said:
“On core principles he (Mandela) was unyielding”
Research shows that when our core principals, our values, are compromised and we can find no way out – even if it is for the sake of a bigger goal – we suffer stress and a major drop in performance. Knowing clearly what our core values are becomes paramount for anyone aspiring to leadership.
Mandela had 20 minutes in court to establish a core principle and to inspire the world:
“I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Obama similarly had less than 20 minutes to convey his message. Both illustrate just how significant core principles are in inspiring others, and the importance of knowing them and keeping them alive.
Listen to Obama’s speech in full at: