Friday, July 11, 2008


An interesting interview with Nelson Mandela appears in Time Magazine in which Mandela lays out ten principles of leadership. Number 3 particularly struck us because it is one that seems to have been forgotten in an age governed by corporate executive systems of control rather than the community organizer's rules of getting things done:

No. 3: Lead from the back - and let others believe they are in front. Mandela loved to reminisce about his boyhood and his lazy afternoons herding cattle. "You know," he would say, "you can only lead them from behind." . . .

As a boy, Mandela was greatly influenced by Jongintaba, the tribal king who raised him. When Jongintaba had meetings of his court, the men gathered in a circle, and only after all had spoken did the king begin to speak. The chief's job, Mandela said, was not to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. "Don't enter the debate too early," he used to say.

During the time I worked with Mandela, he often called meetings of his kitchen cabinet at his home in Houghton, a lovely old suburb of Johannesburg. He would gather half a dozen men, Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki (who is now the South African President) and others around the dining-room table or sometimes in a circle in his driveway. Some of his colleagues would shout at him - to move faster, to be more radical - and Mandela would simply listen. When he finally did speak at those meetings, he slowly and methodically summarized everyone's points of view and then unfurled his own thoughts, subtly steering the decision in the direction he wanted without imposing it. The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. "It is wise," he said, "to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea."


At July 13, 2008 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This attitude is uncannily like the essence of the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tsu, which contains much on ruling wisely.

"In focusing your influence, can you yield as a newborn child?

"In loving people and leading the organization, can you take no action?

"In seeing clearly in all directions can you be without knowledge?

"Act without expectation.
Advance without domination.
These are called the subtle powers."

At July 14, 2008 1:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the article, I too, recognized the Taoist similarities. Depending on the translation one reads, the connection is overt. As an example, for the passage 9:56 quoted from chapter 10 of the Tao Teh Ching, Dartmouth Professor Robert G. Henricks rendered it is as; "In loving the people and giving life to the state---can you do it without knowledge?". Dr John C. H. Wu's translation of the same reads as; "In loving your people and governing your state, Are you able to dispence with cleverness?". Further on, Dr Wu translates: "Enlightened and seeing far into all directions, Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active? Rear your people. Feed your people. Rear them without claiming them for your own. Do your work without setting any store by it. Be a leader, not a butcher! This is called hidden Virtue."
However, for me, the article resonated more directly with chapters 7&8:
"Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?
Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realized?"
---Tao Teh Ching #7

"The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them.
It stays in places loathed by men.
Therefore, it comes near the Tao.

In choosing your dwelling,know how to keep to the ground.
In cultivating your mind, know how to dive in the hidden deeps.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose the moment.

If you do not strive with others,
You will be free from blame."
---Tao Teh Ching #8


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