This recent Time interview with Nelson Mandela provides a great, open and insightful view of leadership from someone who has known great power and also been bereft of its influence in his 90 years. His advice for leaders is practical, outcome-oriented and courageous. Be sure to take the time to read the article in full as it provides an excellent primer for aspiring leaders and a unique vision for the way leadership can transform lives (and whole countries). Mandela’s eight lessons are:

  1. Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it. Most leaders have faced down fear, but it is during times of stress that the mettle of leadership is tested. This means maintaining the momentum in tough times, or as Mandela explains, sometimes you “must put up a front.”
  2. Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind. Mandela focused on a principle objective and employed any and all tactics required to achieve it, however, he always ensured that he brought his support base along with him — to achieve great things, it takes a village.
  3. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front. Be sure to read Mandela’s analogy on this point. And while it appears contradictory, you will smile at the wisdom. Remember also, that leaders can actively assist in the growth of their supporters/teams.
  4. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport. Whether you are fighting against or negotiating with an opponent, your destiny is entwined. Finding a common ground for conversation, like sport, allows you a step inside another’s worldview — and if you have to focus on one thing, make sure it is communication. It is the door to opportunity.
  5. Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer. Mandela understood that “people act in their own interest,” and his approach to dealing with those he did not trust was to bring them into his confidence and neutralize them with charm. But should a crisis ensue, remember the STOP technique to help guide your decisions.
  6. Appearances matter — and remember to smile. Our personal iconographies are important — the way that we carry ourselves, the way we walk into a room, the manner with which we greet people and, of course, the clothes that we wear all tell a story. And Mandela’s smile symbolized an inclusive, patient yet determined leader. Great things can be achieved with a little grace.
  7. Nothing is black or white. As leaders we are often presented with two options — to decide one way or another. Mandela often asked “why not both?” Again, the focus must remain on the outcome, not the tactics — and if a choice has to be made, choose the most urgent of issues.
  8. Quitting is leading too. Not all of our decisions or initiatives will be successful. Leaders must make the difficult decision to cancel or back away from poorly performing projects. Mandela also clearly retired as a way to establish a precedent across Africa — staying long enough to set the course, but not staying on to “steer the ship.” Sometimes leaders must concede to win.

Nina Nets It Out: Each leader must chart her own course, but as we can see from Mandela’s example, a determined focus on a clear outcome helps guide all decisions and tactics along the way.

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