5 Lessons Nelson Mandela Teaches Us About Leadership & Innovation

credit: South Africa. The Good News. www.sagoodnews.co.za

credit: South Africa The Good News. http://www.sagoodnews.co.za

Leadership & Innovation are really inseparable; parts of each other.

Leader/Innovators change their organizations, their countries and often the world. South Africa’s first democratically elected President faced a crisis of vast hostility and intense fear between the newly empowered black majority and the previously dominant whites. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission was an innovation which changed the course of history.

Here are five quotes from Nelson Mandela which have much to offer leaders & innovators everywhere.

1. “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Innovation is about making what does not exist today, exist tomorrow. No matter how hard it seems, no matter how impossible everyone says it is.

2. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

This is a reality every leader faces, especially in a recession or a crisis. It is what the entrepreneur deals with in launching a business using all the money he can scrape together. It’s what the innovator embraces in leading an organization into a new area for success, away from the safety of the known.

3. “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

A real leader helps us and the company we all work in, to grow as significant and as talented as we can be. How much more rewarding it is for leaders to help build people and their confidence in themselves, to live a life as large as they are capable of. The Innovator does not “settle” for what is, but strives for what can be and takes us there.

4. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

This goes to a key point in my posting yesterday. True leaders will grab the criticism and pass on the praise. Weak managers do the opposite. Innovation involves wrong turns, failures, mis-steps. All must be celebrated and learned from as much as the success. If there are no mistakes are being made it often means that nobody is trying anything new.

5. I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more hills to climb.

Probably the most vital insight into leadership and innovation is this: one makes mistakes, one recovers; challenges keep coming, one soldiers on. One has to keep going until you achieve the next goal and then the next and so on. Tenacity, stamina, even stubbornness are the order of the day.

This last quote is a bonus. I’ve included it because we’d all do well to remember this; believe this; BE this.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”


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