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As a great leader passes what can we learn?

With the passing of Nelson Mandela there has been much focus on his leadership, and on the specifics of that leadership style - standing up for something he believed in, acting with humility, using negotiation and compromise as necessary, and listening and engaging with all those he met. As former fellow Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni stated at the rememberance service, Mandela 'believed in sharing insights and listening to and learning from others'. Behaviours we all should apply, personally and in business.

I was fortunate to meet him back in 1998 where I experienced his attributes first hand. It was by chance, in Johannesburg , when I was working on freedom of expression issues and waiting in a relatively empty arrival hall to meet a colleague off a late flight from Kenya which was delayed.

There was some commotion with guards excitedly informing us that Mandela was at the airport to meet a dignatory, and moments later he and his entourage entered. As they made their way through the hall he stopped to talk to the quickly assembling and awed crowd, of which naturally I was one. As he took my hand he asked who I was waiting for and when I told him someone from the Kenyan flight, he laughed, and said he was too and what a shame it was running late. When he learned I was meeting a human right activist he gripped my hand tighter and stated such work would never be done and must always be pursued.

Bank Ki-moon summarised Mandela as 'a singular figure on the global stage - a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration' . There will be few in history who can match that achievement but as many leaders stated he will continue to inspire and reminds us to reflect on how we can act better in our lives. Ask yourself what type of leader, whatever level you work at, you wish to be, and importantly perhaps reflect what kind of leader others may view you as.

Andrea Bonime-Blanc, CEO of GEC Risk Advisory, writing in Ethical Corporation earlier this year defined different types of ethical business leaders as follows:

The Irresponsible Leader: Oblivious or hostile to "integrity" and focused on short term.

The Superficial Leader: good at "talking the talk", proficient at "brand" and marketing. No embedding of practice.

The Responsible Leader: "walks the talk", develops ethical culture and corporate responsibility by providing resource to build integrity and balances incentive with discipline; or the ultimate:

The Enlightened Leader: Above and beyond. Strategically understands value add and connects dots between culture, products and services. Looking at long term business success.

My Christmas hope is future business leaders aspire to responsibility and enlightenment styles and apply, in President Obama's words, 'the power of action and the power of ideas' in creating a better world.


Tanya's previous blog post
Why keeping clean is good for corporate returns



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