I want to share with you an encounter I had with a very successful old man in his early seventies. He is happily married, a father and grandfather with a successful career as a trainer on communication for change with many reputable non-governmental organization and various organs of the United Nations.
In my custom of observing and asking questions when I’m with wise elders, I asked him, “Sir, what would you do differently if you were to start your life all over again.” He sighed deeply and responded, “You have asked a very hard question….but to tell you the most important of all, I will take my relationships more seriously.” He continued, “There are some people I met in my life who saw my potential and gave me access to their wealth of wisdom and connection as a young man, obviously willing to help develop me. I did not use the opportunities and that is the sad story. I allowed them to slip through my fingers.”
In what I would like to call lessons from failure, he continued “As a young man, I was very charismatic and eager to give expression to my difference and this audacious attitude drew me to the bad, the good and the ugly. I did not have the wisdom as a young man to sieve out the bad from the ugly and the good. I had superiority complex……It robbed me of the need to embrace interdependence as a gift of nature, a vehicle to help us achieve our God-ordained destiny….”
The old man concludes, “Though it is a painful discovery which cost me a lot, I have no regrets, I only have lessons. My unalloyed commitment is to communicate these lessons first to my children which I faithfully take time to do and any other wise man or woman who ask me as you have done today. My dear friend, I believe relationship is power.”
Hmmn! I have always had this thought or philosophy but I didn’t grasp its full import until my conversation with this old man and it is this – No man is self made, we are all products of influences. It is wise to understand that relationships are important to our advancement.
I think the number one business any man should be involved in is people business. It is an investment whose dividends are priceless and invaluable. It sad our world today doesn’t recognize clearly its importance in stamping our influence on the sands of time.
Accomplishments, no matter how great, are not a factor in defining meaning and fulfillment. Let me say this – if you are not in the people business, you are not in any business and you cannot give expression to the best of your potential. I’m not referring here to parasitic or careless relationships. I’m not talking about relationships of individuals who are not comfortable in their own skin or in being alone and are always seeking the validation of others in the name of relationships.
The relationships I’m talking about are those carefully cultivated in pursuit of one’s destiny. Relationships of this nature are cultivated in 3 critical categories
Relationships with people you look up to.
This may include your parents, your mentors, teachers and all. You must learn to respect, submit and reason with them, not argue with them. These people have the knowledge, experience, professionalism and spirituality to guide and to pace you. More importantly, you are able to access them and if you can’t, pursue it
These include friends and colleagues at work. You usually get support from them through mutual respect and humility but you can’t lord things over them. You are called to support one another
Those who look up to you.
These include your children, immediate family members, younger minds and younger voices in society and protégés. You enjoy this uncommon blessing by providing direction through your lifestyle and principles. You cannot afford to let them down because that is like letting many generations down.
This is the truth – some people are so poor all they have is money. The greatest poverty in life is to lack meaningful relationships. The greatest bankruptcy a man will not quickly recover from is when there is no deposit in his or her relationship banks to draw from in critical times of destiny.
Amidst all the eulogies that have poured forth on Nelson Mandela, I’m not quick to forget that the best lessons in a man’s life are not usually in his strengths and triumphs but in his weaknesses and failures. For this reason, I’m studying his regrets as a deliberate attempt to manage my times better and drawing crucial life lessons from those who have gone ahead of me.
Mandela chose a noble path to follow but nonetheless it came at the expense of one of the greatest joys of human experience – the joy of a rich family life. In his book ‘A long Walk to Freedom’, He described how his first marriage to his first wife which was blessed with four children disintegrated and led to a total break up. He described further that the breakup of a marriage is traumatic especially for the children. “Our marriage was no exception and all of our children were wounded by the separation”, wrote Mandela. He described how Makato, gentle child, a natural peace maker tried to bring about some sort of reconciliation between him and his wife, the emotional reaction of his last child and how Thembi stop studying and became withdrawn and would frequently wear his clothes in reminiscence and longing for his father’s presence.
Mandela described a painful break up with his long term wife Winnie Mandela who stood by him in his years of incarceration, who at age 55 got involved in a relationship with a young lawyer, who already had a child with another woman. On April 13, 1992 announced in a press conference his separation from Winnie. In the book, he mentioned that he and his comrade Monzamo had contracted their marriage at a critical time in the struggle for the liberation of their people. He said “owing to the pressure of our shared commitment to the ANC struggle to end apartheid we were unable to enjoy a normal family life”.
He lamented how his role blinded him to fulfilling his responsibilities to his wife and children. He mentioned at his daughter Zindi’s wedding “It seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is in the struggle like mine was, there is little room left for family. This has always been my greatest regret and the most painful aspect of the choice I made. We watched our children grow without our guidance.”
He also mentioned his children saying after his release from prison, “We thought we had a father and one day he will come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation. To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”
Mandela is a noble man in admitting his failures despite a saintly accord by the world. He communicated the truth that above all things, family is king. He refused to celebrate a lie, bringing home a lesson that no height of human achievement can make up for failure in the family. He knew this clear in his conscience and if he could live his life over again, he would do things differently.
To repeat his own words, “To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”
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!
Welcome to today’s snippet of LESSONS from FAILURE with OLAKUNLE SORIYAN aired on SMOOTH 98.1. My focus on the show this morning was on PROBLEMS. I have said again and again that few have failed as much as i have. I’ve lost a lot to failure and i have also gained a lot from it. Failure has given me a mental posture towards so-called problems. I learnt it the hard way but it’s free for you here. You see, the three most important things in life after God, are PEOPLE, PLACES and EVENTS. The inter-play of these three creates your life; and correctly interpreting them is arguably the critical difference in people. These three variables create your reality, and when reality is wrongly interpreted, we naively create what we call PROBLEMS. If problems do exist, our most noble commitment should be to master how to solve them…every time. Problems are NEW EXPERIENCES. Learn this, there is always a significant level of DISCOMFORT, UNEASINESS and sometimes FEAR and ANXIETY that comes from the FRESHNESS of a NEW EXPERIENCE, or contact with the UNKNOWN. When you think you have a problem, it is because you have (either by your own foolishness, ignorance, unguarded outburst or untactful-ness or those of others) found yourself in a place your world-view terms as negative, shameful, painful or embarrassing. Whichever way, that place is a place you have not been before or was a nasty experience the last time you were there or you heard or knew someone was there. So we call it a problem. No! It’s not a problem; it is a NEW EXPERIENCE. A NEW EXPERIENCE is a necessary ladder to your next level of relevance; and It is the human duty to hold it to be completely true and self-evident within us that what we call problems are what actually define the relevance and meaning of solutions. If pain is not a reality, then victories and testimonies will be meaningless; as we ONLY celebrate a victory and sing songs of testimony because the situation initially held a potential for pain, shame, embarrassment or even death. Don’t forget that whatever you are going through now can get worse if you don’t get the right thinking and perception. Truth is, we all possess the power to make anything what it will be. It is in your hands!