“You criticize without understanding. You seek only to address your own personal feelings. That is selfish thinking.”
Nelson Mandela. The quintessential leader.
Not much really needs to be said about the man. What more can we say about him?
Very few in modern history have achieved the literal and symbolic figure of a hero like he has.
Guiding his country out of apartheid, literally taking it by the hand with the whole world watching on, waiting for him to fail, he prevailed.
Today, South Africa has come a long way from those days, with the second highest GDP in Africa, it’s emerging steadily as a developing nation. This could not have been achieved without Nelson Mandela at the helm during the most crucial time of the country’s rebirth.
We can talk a lot about his courageousness in his fight against racism, we can talk about his political stances and how he was instrumental in shaping the country’s fight towards equality, but others have done that before and probably far better than I can.
What I want to look at, is how he governed himself, before his country.
To be a true leader, and to really inspire others, you have to be worth following in the first place.
As a leader, you will definitely be faced with problematic situations, ones that require wisdom and finesse to solve.
You will also be in situations where you might need to criticize someone, not for the sake of it, but in order to reach better results or to help correct someone’s behavior. These can be very sensitive conversations because obviously no one likes to be corrected.
You will be in situations where you have to ask those around you to adapt themselves to unfamiliar circumstances.
It’s not possible to do these and more if you yourself are not an example worth following.
For instance, you cannot criticize someone for being unable to control their temper, if you yourself haven’t succeeded in doing that first.
You can’t advise someone that they need to change something about themselves, if you yourself have never done that in the first place in a similar situation.
“If I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can expect others to?”
To lead a nation, you need to lead those in your immediate circle, and to lead your immediate circle, you need to be a leader of yourself.
The self, where most of our greatest achievements or failures can happen. And to be a leader, you must conquer the self. The self can be needy, weak and immature. It’s where we find most of our imperfections and flaws and it is both our greatest asset and our highest mountain to climb.
To learn to address the self, is to learn to develop and mature ourselves. It is to look at your own flaws before looking at someone else’s. It is to hold yourself to a higher standard than that of those around you.
To be able to change and affect the world around us, we must first have our own affairs in order. No one is perfect or without their flaws, but what sets us apart is how much we work hard on our character.
To learn to forgive, to criticize oneself before someone else, to control our temper, to be kind when we don’t have to be, to be selfless, to be courageous, all this takes hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Nelson Mandela is who he is because of how he treated his self. He did not give in to his justified anger, nor to his need for revenge for the injustice he faced. He did not face criticism with anger, but with a resolute mind to strive for the best, honestly questioning himself if he had made mistakes. He did not let his self-rule him, he ruled it.
Where the self-wanted violence, he strove for peace.
Where the self-wanted revenge, he strove for forgiveness.
Where the self-wanted stagnation, he sought for change. And he is a legend for it.
We’re not all going to be leaders of our nations, obviously. But if we want to affect any change in the world, it is perhaps more vital to look at what we can change about ourselves, before looking outside.
If each of us, can do half as much as Nelson Mandela did with his self, your company, your school, your hospital, your office, your family, ultimately the world, would be a much better place for all of us.
“I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”