EMPOWERED LEADERSHIP | What Makes a Leader
by Andrew Ngozo
What Makes a Leader?
Almost all over the world, people are aware of a small boy who grew up in a rural village in one of the remotest, least developed areas of South Africa. Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) is perhaps one of the greatest statesmen of our time and, indeed, one of the few that may emerge from the African continent and South Africa. Every individual who had some interaction with Madiba, whether on a physical level or otherwise, would tell of what a great and charismatic leader he was – many aspire to attain the levels of respect he gained in his lifetime, and which he continues to enjoy even after his passing on. This raises the question: What is it that Nelson Mandela had that even the world’s foremost leaders such as United States President Barack Obama had to stop everything just to attend his memorial service?
Granted, as a lawyer by profession, the late president of South Africa had a good education. But, beyond that, some may argue that the man was born to lead regardless of the circumstances. It may be that he had a great personality, for many who had personal contact with him will profess that he had a knack of making one feel at ease around him. As a business leader, one would do well to try to follow in the footsteps of the great man. While this feat may not be entirely possible, as we are differently moulded, one can definitely try to emulate how the man lived his life, led his people, and thus earned respect the world over. Nelson Mandela’s life and qualities have changed the hearts of people around the world. Having survived trials in love, politics and civil rights, his choices paved the way for a new and better world. Below are some of his leadership qualities that leaders would do well to emulate.
Mandela’s Leadership Qualities
Thirst for Knowledge
Anyone who would attempt to downscale the importance of education in a disagreement with Nelson Mandela would be in for a loss. Mandela attended six higher-education institutions, including the University of South Africa (1943), Healdtown Comprehensive School, the University of Fort Hare, the University of the Witwatersrand, University of London International Programmes, and the University of London. Like any other leader in the history books, Mandela’s education was his inspiration and his handbook. Learning how far humanity had come was motivation for him to push and see how great society could one day be. Education provides a better understanding of ideas and people. In Mandela’s own words, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Resistance to Conformity
Nelson Mandela made unexpected decisions from the start, in both his personal and political life. Mandela refused the prospect of a forced, arranged marriage and moved to Johannesburg in 1939. Despite living in a highly repressive culture, he opened a legal firm serving black clients in 1952. Of course, he is best known for his Nobel Peace Prize awarded for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa and for becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa. In short, Mandela built new roads; he did not simply stick to the easy path most would follow.
Those who have suffered are often those who truly make a significant difference in the hearts and minds of people. Nelson Mandela endured danger and time in prison in order to achieve freedom for his country. Beyond that, he dedicated his life to speaking about the importance of equality. His decisions put him in the public eye. Though many would view fame as a wonderful thing, it comes with lack of privacy and great responsibility, which Mandela was willing to take on – even to the extent of giving up his role as president purely so he could speak and fight for people’s rights around the world. Mandela made many sacrifices.
There is always room for growth and improvement in the world, and in daily life. It is the individuals who desire continuous growth, treasure knowledge and refuse to accept injustice who change lives. Be it a co-worker, a family member or an entire company, every person has opportunities to positively influence others in their life. Everyone has the ability to lead, if only they utilise available leadership tools and choose to believe. Leadership is a trait known to many, learnt by some and perfected by few. There are, among others, leaders, managers, supervisors and bosses who take up the responsibilities of getting things done through others, rather than by others. Many attempt, some learn and a few succeed. Leadership is a trait that is not passed on or inherited; it has to be earned, and on a daily basis.
Ten Must-have Leadership Traits
The concept of leadership has been the basis of much research and a decent amount of literature has been published about leadership, highlighting and describing the dos and don’ts of leadership, the traits of good leaders, the characteristics of the best leaders, the things that make good leaders, and the things that make leaders good. In a world where every third person is a self-proclaimed expert on business and leadership, it is important to learn from the very best. Patrick Alain, the founder of LeaderPhrase.com, shares some of the most notable lessons from some of the world’s very best business and political leaders.
There was a time when the strongest person in a group, clan or kingdom used to be their leader. In the present predominantly democratic society, a leader is selected by the people from the people and for the people. It is important for a leader to be ‘concordant’ and ‘approachable’ in order to facilitate an environment of growth and intellect. If employees cannot approach the leader of the organisation, they cannot put forth their demands, suggestions or ideas, thereby hampering their creative genius and rendering them unsatisfied. A leader who can get along with followers, who can listen and appreciate their ideas, and who can take care of their needs is the leader of the future.
The most effective leaders in the world seldom use the word ‘I’; they say ‘we’. The best leaders always think in terms of a team and believe in ‘teamwork’. It is the job of every leader to make the team function, and the ones who understand that start thinking along the same lines and are effective. These leaders accept the challenges and work towards making their team efficient; the leader faces the song but gives credit to the team. This creates trust in the team and enables the leader to get the task done.
Managing is not easy, but it is not the high end of leading an organisation. Managing a crisis is important, but if the leader has the ‘foresight’ to see the situation coming, he or she can easily make decisions beforehand that can avert the crisis and lead to innovative development. Foresight has the power and potential of transforming the business industry, and it is important that a leader possesses foresight if the organisation is to grow. In the absence of foresight, the opportunity of getting to the finishing line first and establishing market supremacy is lost. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s foresight helped him to create a market monopoly when it came to disseminating news and he went on to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the world, and his company, News Corporation, the second-largest media conglomerate in the world.
It is important for a leader to ‘be realistic’. Having momentum is necessary, but not knowing when to stop can lead to a disaster. A leader should always know the limitations of the team he or she is leading and try to accomplish feats that are possible and within reach. Seven successful small feats are better than one big feat, which may or may not be successful. World Com Inc., Enron Corp. and Bethlehem Steel are great examples of industry giants that failed to realise when to stop and ended up devastated and bankrupt.
One of the main responsibilities of a good leader is to ‘make intelligent choices’ and exercise restraint while making investments. The global market keeps offering luring opportunities for investments and a leader should know when to invest and when to say ‘No’. While investments can be highly profitable, they can also be expensive and unprofitable, leading to crunch situations.
‘Learning from your mistakes’ is a general must-do for everyone, and more so for leaders. Everyone makes mistakes, but the ones who learn from their mistakes move past them and become better with every fall. One who learns from an earlier mistake will never commit it again, thereby reducing the chances of failure in the future.
Learning doesn’t have to be limited to one’s own mistakes and to the good examples set by others; one can also learn from the mistakes committed by others and from the bad examples set by them. In a competitive market, it is very important to keep track of one’s rivals, of how they perform, of what they do, and of the outcome of their actions. One doesn’t necessarily have to follow in their footsteps and do whatever turned out to be good for them, but, when it comes to mistakes they make, one has to note them down on the ‘things to avoid’ noticeboard.
A leader should be a ‘role model’ for the followers. This can be possible only if the leader sets high standards that need hard work to be matched. This not only makes the leader respectable among his or her followers, but it also motivates the followers to work harder towards achieving higher standards of work.
One of the best characteristics of modern leaders is that they create leaders from their followers. ‘Creating leaders’ is not easy and it takes a long time to identify potential in the team member and nurture it in a positive direction. Assigning tasks and duties to team members and putting some of them in charge of particular tasks makes them self-reliant and develops their leadership qualities. So, by the time the top-level leaders of an organisation, such as CEOs and directors, retire, they leave behind a legacy and new leaders.