For our April selection of ‘Something Old and Something New’ we decided to select two books which are both old and new at the same time, all things considered in the Age of COVID-19.

 

As we all stay at home and realize that this process is likely to go on for months, we thought we’d shine the light on someone else who was isolated and literally a prisoner…for 27 years. 

 

Nelson Mandela, known by his tribal/clan name of Madiba, was prisoner #46664 when he entered Robben Island prison in 1964 at the age of 64.  (That means he was the 466th prisoner to enter in that year.) 

 

A well-known leader, he was active in politics in the apartheid days of South Africa and was ultimately imprisoned (thankfully not sentenced to the death penalty, which looked like a real possibility) and served for 18 years in a small prison at Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town.  He then was moved to Pollsmoor Prison and from there, to his final prison at Drakenstein Correctional Center, where he emerged as a well-known leader and legend. 

 

From that moment of February 11th, 1990 until his death December 5th, 2013, he inspired his native country by helping to end the cruel era of apartheid, organized one of the only successful Peace and Reconciliation Commissions ever envisioned, with the assistance of F.W. de Klerk and under the pastorship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  For his accomplishments, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

 

Long Walk to Freedom is the autobiography of Mandela and offers us many insights into this revolutionary and inspirational man.  The shorter book, Leading like Madiba focuses on leadership lessons specifically.  There is a movie called Invictus for those who prefer a good Netflix during these days. 

 

It is an interesting coincidence of history that he notes he was born in the year of a world pandemic, saying: “I was born on 18 July at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, the capital of the Transkei.  The year of my birth marked the end of the Great War; the outbreak of an influenza epidemic that killed millions throughout the world; and the visit of a delegation of the African National Congress to the Versailles peace conference to voice the grievances of the African people of South Africa.”

 

Writing about his time in prison, he noted a few concepts that are relevant in unexpected ways for us today: 

 

1. “Routine is …comforting for the prisoner, which is why it can be a trap.  It can be hard to resist, for routine makes the time go faster.  It is important to stay busy with work, study and to be cautious about inactivity and idleness…”  Note that he studied as often as he was able to receive material and was a prolific writer while in confinement.

2. “The challenge…is how to survive prison intact, how to emerge from there undiminished, how to conserve and even replenish one’s beliefs.  …we must keep that spark that makes each of us human…

3. “Our survival depended on building understanding… and sharing our understandings with each other.  We were able to be together and thanks to that, we supported one another and gained strength from each other…by our sharing we multiplied whatever courage we had individually…”

 

Leading Like Madiba by Martin Kalungu-Banda is a lovely, short treatise that tells stories which will charm you and reinforce so much of what you already know about him and about his leadership.  He was the ultimate ‘servant leader’ and someone who broke through one of the most polarized of societies, crossing boundaries of race, religion, age, gender and culture.  The world more or less expected violence and explosions from the tinder box that was South Africa in those days.  The story of his extraordinary leadership is one from which we can all take lessons and draw inspiration. 

 

Here are 10 Lessons for leading from Madiba, which are thoroughly explained in the book:

1.  Cultivate a deep sense of awe for human beings--Leadership is about people and every single person matters.  Treat everyone you come across with the utmost honour.

2.  Allow yourself to be inspired by the giftedness of other people--In a practical way, show that you recognize that every person has special gifts to be used for the good of the community or organization

3.  Grow your courage--Great leaders have courage.  This does not mean absence of fear, but rather learning how to recognize your fears, face the harsh realities of your situation and nevertheless choose to follow what you consider the right course of action.

4. ‘Go and preach the Gospel.  Where necessary, use words!’--Lead by example.  You should not ask of others what you are not ready to do yourself.’

5.  Create your own brand of leadership--A leader’s name and image must be consistently related to a set of values.

6.  Practice humility--Great leaders acknowledge their failings.  By being able to apologize for your wrongs, you send the message that the search for right thought and action is a common enterprise.

7.  Learn to live with the Madiba paradox--Life is a mix of hope and hopelessness, joy and pain, success and failure, vision and disillusionment.  You as a leader have the task of helping others to live successfully with these apparent contradictions.

8.  Surprise your opponents by believing in them--There will always be people who disagree with your leadership style and what you do.  Try to understand different points of view and identify the positive elements there.

9.  Celebrate life--Activity and achievement of any kind are signs of life that affect life in turn.  We work in order to enhance our life.  We should celebrate not only individual performance and giftedness but life itself.

10. Know when and how to make yourself replaceable--Great leaders know how to move themselves from center stage.  They know also when it is time to go.  They prepare for it, enable others to emerge and create conditions for fresh leadership to emerge.

 

Both of these are available on Amazon.