How Leaders can Create and Sustain Meaning: Instructive lessons from Nelson Mandela
All men die and this is a fact of life. But what is obvious is that some
die and the world bids good riddance to bad rubbish. The death of some
exclusive few who by their nobility evoke strong memories, affection,
endless eulogies and autobiographies are celebrated. Rarely does the death
of a man attract so much attention as the death of the nobel prize winner
and father of the South African democracy, Nelson Mandela.
The high calling of leadership is to inspire meaning and fulfillment in
people, helping people develop a higher perspective to their everyday lives
and work, raising their sight above the need to just survive to that of
making meaningful contribution to the world around them. These were the
principles Mandela stood for, a cause for which he willingly offered his
very soul and human comfort.
What lessons can leaders in politics and the world of work learn from this
great man in creating meaning for their people?
1. Develop the ability to inspire meaning and fulfillment in
Mandela displayed among many things the ability to rouse a people
ordinarily given to the mundane and galvanized them towards a cause higher
than themselves. It is the noble task of leadership whether in politics or
work to help people discover and embrace the deeper meaning of their lives
and work. They must help many avoid the trap of going through life without
seeking the “why” behind their endeavours beyond what is obvious. This is
where leadership comes in to create and sustain meaning and fulfillment.
2. Leaders must be willing to rise above prejudice, confront wrong
ideologies and create new meaning in task and for people.
Only few leaders can blend a vicious diversity of colour and race to unite
and father a new nation deep beyond the prejudice of apartheid the way
Mandela did. Leaders at work must ensure that people see their office
beyond a place to work and earn a living.
What do you think of Candice Philips who was assigned to clean up vomit and
faeces in a chemotherapy lab in a hospital? Such duty that can be treated
as beyond dignity by a person without wide perspective was instead viewed
by her as a contribution. In her own words “My job is equally important to
the physician. I help these people feel human at their lowest and most
vulnerable point. I help them maintain their dignity. I make it okay to
feel awful, to lose control and to be able to manage themselves.”
Leaders must help their people experience great meaning in their work and
contribute their quota to a noble and great vision beyond their individual
selves. They must help their workers focus on legacy understanding that
it is built by human consciousness and not luck. They must help them see
beyond the immediate time frame to the long term value of their work.
Leaders must articulate a clear-cut path to serving the greater good and be
seen in the forefront of working towards its realization.
3. Leaders must prioritize right values
Leaders must uphold a high sense of value and ensure it is implanted in
those they lead. Their values must originate from timeless and unchanging
principles and they must ensure their own behavior add up. People can’t
resist the force of a life well lived as Mandela demonstrated in upholding
the values of forgiveness, magnanimity and justice. He says it better in
his own words :
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society
in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if it needs be, it is an
ideal for which I am PREPARED TO DIE.”
THIS IS THE LIFE!