Wednesday, July 23, 2008

OFG XII: Afterword

As an afterword to the previous two posts, I'm adding some thoughts prompted by an article I read this morning about Nelson Mandela.

While revered at a level unmatched by contemporaries--his biographer refers to him as 'the first secular saint'--Mandela himself never claimed miraculous capacity for forgiveness, as is mistakenly oft-portrayed of him. Instead, he acknowledged privately how much he disliked some of the people he dealt with, publicly, in a kind and considerate way, pointing out that he wished only to reach the best conclusion possible for the people of South Africa--both white and black, Afrikaners and native.

While never quoted to have said this, his long-time friend and coauthor of his biography, Richard Stengel, says that Mandela's calculus was, "What is the end that I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?"

The bottom line is just as Mandela puts it: we have a ways to go yet, and the road to the end we all seek is one which can best be navigated by those with unique talents. For those of us who are not navigators, we can best serve by keeping our eyes open to the opportunities provided by people like Nelson Mandela, people who have the vision to break trail for those of us with the will, but maybe not the capability of finding the right path amidst the chaos.

And, to preempt anyone seeing me as promoting the savior mentality: a willingness to follow a trail is not a commitment to follow someone past where their path makes sense for your own. When the paths diverge, go your own way.

Mandela, himself now just past 90 (born 7/18/18), would point out how far South Africa has progressed since he left center stage. The best leaders do not create a cult of personality, but one of authenticity and purpose: the next person after the charismatic leader departs who is able to continue the drive toward a commonly held goal is offered the same opportunity to lead. As much as anything, it is Mandela's legacy which proves his sainthood, even if he is only recognized by popular acclaim as such.


thailandchani said...

Yes... a long way to go yet.

I'm not sure I can agree with Mandela on the most "practical" way to get there necessarily being the highest value.

I'm not sure I can reconcile the idea of anything good coming from the corporate mentality and the exploitation of working people to increase the wealth of the few, no matter how it's framed. Power inequity is power inequity, even if the iron fist is covered with a velvet glove.

Still.. truly... I do thank you for the past couple of posts. They made me think. :)


Rick Hamrick said...

In the case of South Africa, Mandela was first inspiration while in prison for decades, then hands-on leader who was instrumental in getting his country out of the white-ruled situation it had been created with, and into a truly unique government where power is shared.

The country teetered for awhile and almost went completely the other direction, where it would have become black-ruled. Mandela was a big part in the pendulum only swinging halfway, and the relative stability of the country since he retired is ample evidence to his good work.

It is Africa, so 'stability' is relative. Compared to Somalia, Rwanda, and many other countries in Central Africa, though, South Africa has been very successful at creating a country where the citizens live in safety. It is one of the few countries on that continent without an iron fist in charge.

I'm in full agreement with you that the old corporate mentality is measurably a poor choice. For the company, the employees, the customers of the one benefits in the long run.

I'm not so certain about your stance on power inequity. The fact is, some are better-equipped to lead a company or a country than others. By necessity, there is a significant amount of power involved. The question is, what is done with that power?

What I am seeing in the company I have worked for now for almost 20 years is a more-enlightened view of the worth of its employees. I'm not talking glad-handing or making pretty speeches. I'm seeing millions spent to help employees grow personally and increase their value in the marketplace.

It is only by the company doing right by its workers that it can keep people who have received company-supplied training and other benefits. Otherwise, they take their newly acquired skills down the road.

The journey of a thousand miles is only in its early stages, but I have reason to hope that things will continue to improve, and not just where I work, but in companies and countries all over the world.

Thanks for chiming in, Chani!