Posts Tagged ‘humility’

Mandela’s Virtues

December 20, 2013


For nearly 30 years, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for sabotage and promoting revolution.  And, at 71 years old, in barely just ten years of activity, Mandela secured a peaceful launch of a democratic South Africa.

The long, useful life of Mandela has given us an important leadership example. Described by many as a complex man, some of his attributes certainly warrant cultivation. Here, I note three important ones:

Tenacious. Surviving nearly three decades of prison is only partial evidence of this virtue. After 20 years, the government offered Mandela freedom if he’d renounce violence. He declined.  Mandela also chose to “pivot” or modify strategies to ensure an intended outcome. Initially, a staunch believer in non-violence, he reluctantly modified this perspective to include sabotage (without bloodshed) and, eventually, guerilla warfare because it was the only option to be effective. Mandela’s determination meant he was wholly committed to planned results.

Humble. Mandela endeared his prisoner peers and the wardens by refusing privilege. Until others had the treatment he was offered, he declined. He did not expect or seek individual reward. This maturity is valuable evidence of authenticity. Mandela was embarrassed by attention. As a descendent of royalty, he used his traditional name Mandiba, but with no cult of personality. He said, “I should like to be remembered as an ordinary South African.”

Reconciler. Avoiding vengeance, Mandela chose the more powerful strategies of negotiation, mediation and compromise to assure peace. He acted as a midwife and guide for hope, democracy and a nation built on the rule of law.  Mandela understood moral authority. He used the power of enduring values to support South Africa’s rebirth.

One can expect tributes, analyses and editorials about Nelson Mandela for months, indeed years, to come. His heroic example has delivered vital changes. It is a sharp contrast to the common plays of corruption, infighting and partisanship. One principled person made a great difference.

As 2014 starts, consider what could be in the new year? Not long ago, many loathed Mandela. Most had interests to protect and only a few could see the vision he offered. As the world honors him, it’s a reminder that we need champions for change with worthy attributes.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

Lincoln Lessons

January 31, 2013


Your choices and actions can make great contributions to both public and private value. Recent attention and related discussion around the film, Lincoln, offers a spotlight for some powerful lessons in managing and leading. The movie focuses mostly on the 13th Amendment, which made slavery unconstitutional. However, the leadership Lincoln demonstrated in the period before the Emancipation Proclamation is also significant and revealing.

The Situation. Lincoln was burdened by the tensions created in a commitment to abolish slavery but preserve the Union. Opponents were merciless in criticism and allies were very frustrated. He was troubled by huge loss of life from the Civil War, depressed by his own child’s death, faced intense political opposition and other practical difficulties.

Lincoln Attributes. Most historians and contemporary observers agree that Lincoln was resilient, patient, thorough, emotionally intelligent, showed moral clarity and passion, was accessible, present, authentic, intuitive and credible. He was also known for his honesty and humility.

Lincoln Competencies. A review of his skills and knowledge indicate Lincoln was a careful listener, a capable analyst and strategist, adaptive, integrative and evidence-based. His management choices were well-timed and he was a deliberate thinker.

The Lincoln Lessons

(1) Keep the big goal constant. Disciplined thought and action against that North Star will ensure forward progress. Lincoln never wavered on his intended primary result.

(2) Be accessible. Leadership doesn’t hide behind closed doors as it ensures only isolation, insulation and elitism. Lincoln engaged in “open hours” with citizens at the White House and communicated constantly with those inside and outside his influence.

(3) Actively seek diverse opinion and thought. A range of thought was key to great perspective. Inclusion is an important principle. Lincoln invited his rivals’ opinions and experiences.

(4) Humility and honesty win. Ego, lies and manipulation take time and energy. Lincoln’s character was consistent and reliable. He rarely sought retribution or vengeance and kept a long view.

(5) Expect challenge and adversity. Change involves opposition and risk. Lincoln faced tough opponents and new obstacles repeatedly.

(6) Adapt tactics to context. Gathering information, sensing and interpretation are vital tasks which inform revision. Lincoln was willing to alter plans.

(7) Recognize timing matters. An emotional or even fast response may not be best. Lincoln waited strategically to share the Emancipation Proclamation after a battle victory for good reason.

(8) Share responsibility and success. Know that others have important contributions to make. Find and engage great people. Lincoln worked with and through a team. Competent managers act this way.

(9) Be persistent with complexity. Don’t react, respond. Think long enough to untangle the knots. Lincoln was known for his intellectual exploration.

(10) Messages matter. Effective communications are important in connecting with people. Lincoln used humor and told stories with a lesson. Compared to others, his public comments were short and clear.

Harvard Business School uses a case on Lincoln’s presidency to illustrate good practices. Our 16th president was very capable, but not flawless. Nobody is. But, his choices can offer inspiration and constructive example.

-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See :

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