An interesting quote about Mandela

An interesting quote about Mandela

I was watching Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN last weekend, and I heard commentary on Nelson Mandela, and a quote that was too good to ignore.  So, I will write about this quote here and return to our discussion of “How the basic principles that I use in leadership coaching apply to marketing and branding” with the next entry.

In general, I do not watch much television, but this is one program I try to catch whenever possible.  Zakaria has one of the truly interesting news analysis shows on television.  One of his guests on April 11 was Rick Stengel, author of “Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons of Life, Love and Courage”.  At one point, the Fareed Zakaria asked Stengel to comment on the keys to Mandela’s character and leadership, to his extraordinary ability to move others.

I quote here excerpts from the author’s response:  “The key was his prison experience.  Prison was his great teacher…27 years in prison…he went in as a hot-headed tempestuous young man, and he came out steeled, self-controlled, measured, and he understood the power of the media…He understood that he had to project tolerance, forgiveness, and that helped prevent a civil war in South Africa.  It helped unify that country.  He was media savvy in a way that he learned so fast, that he could become this symbol that became for all of us a symbol of unification, a symbol of leadership that we all yearn for.”

As I wrote in a previous entry about Mandela (March 29), he saw the prison experience as the key turning point of crucible in his life.  Mandela explains that had he not been in prison, he would never have been able to accomplish the most difficult task in life, the task of changing oneself.

The above quote from Stengel is remarkable to me for the many things we see in a few brief lines.  We notice, or visualize between the lines, many of the elements that I use when I coach individuals, and much of what we wrote about in our recent book about leadership and storytelling (Les Sept règles du storytelling, with Loïck Roche, October 2009).

If I were to make a complete list and discuss each point that we see here, it could provide blog entries for several weeks.  Here is a quick inventory of the main points to take away, many of which we have discussed in previous entries:

  • the importance of reflection
  • the quest for self-knowledge
  • the long search for an identity as a lifelong endeavor
  • the processing of the prison experience, more important than the experience itself is the processing of the experience
  • the defining of who he is and what he stands for (and what he does not want to stand for)
  • the building of a story that was true to him and authentic to others
  • the personalization of this story, the simplifying of his story
  • the projection onto a larger stage, to the point of becoming a symbol
  • the telling of his stories of identity to engaging a wider community, through his understanding of how to use the media

I could probably go on, but this might already be enough to think about!

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