Coaching, mentoring, leading, counseling are forms of parenting.
Most people would agree there is a common thread running through coaching, mentoring, managing, leading and even counseling. These are all attempts to influence or change in some way someone else’s behaviour. All these can also be seen as some form of “parenting.” With this in mind, I would like to share some thoughts on the former South African President, the late Nelson Mandela’s leadership style as an example of parenting.
Following the passing of Nelson Mandela in December 2013, a memorial service was organized in the courtyard of our academic institution’s building. I arrived there as the proceedings were about to begin when I was asked by the Director of the Business School if I could say a few words (in place of a scheduled speaker who had not yet arrived) about the late president. Not having prepared for this speech, I had to think on my feet of what immediately came to mind in remembering the world icon. I teach personal development to business school students and in my explanation of “personal mastery” and personal transformation, I often give Nelson Mandela as an example of an individual who showed signs of inner transformation. It was this that I choose to speak about at the service.
He emerged a transformed man…
Nelson Mandela went to prison as a freedom fighter and to some, a dangerous criminal and terrorist. He emerged out of prison twenty seven years later a completely transformed human being who showed no sign of anger or bitterness. One can imagine he went through his Winston Churchill, Malcom X and Martin Luther King moments while in prison and emerged as the Dalai Lama. He came out of prison not a politician but a very wise old man. He embraced his former captors as well his supporters through tough negotiations and an inclusive government of national unity. I argued Nelson Mandela spent his many years in prison going through an inner journey of personal mastery.
How did he go about doing this?
The question is: How did he go about doing this? He prophesied to not belonging to any religious group and never spoke of having followed any spiritual path and yet, he left many clues of having engaged with a wide range of teachings. He showed personal mastery in his dealings with others: personal mastery being defined as a quest to be a master of the creation, and a companion, of one’s true self. He embraced polar opposites of friend and foe; support and challenge; pleasure and pain; spiritual and sacred. He seemed to accept fully that every human being has both an animal side and an angelic side and he embraced both in himself and others.
An embodiment of self awareness…
Nelson Mandela was an embodiment of self-awareness leading to self-knowledge, and self-knowledge leading to metanoia and personal transformation. In an excerpt from “Mandela the Authorized Biography” by Anthony Sampson, Mandela gives some evidence of his engagement with this process while in prison when he said:
“You may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. Regular meditation, say of about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be fruitful in this regard.”
It was said Mandela cited a poem “Invictus” as one that sustained him and helped him endure the agony of prison life (he cited the poem to other prisoners). This was a poem written by William Ernest Henley, a victim of tuberculosis, a below-knee amputee, incapacitated and facing death:
“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged the punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”
Every parent’s journey is toward self mastery…
As Mandela walked out of the prison gates after twenty seven years, he said he looked back at the gates and decided he was going to leave all the bitterness, anger and thoughts of revenge behind the prison walls convinced if he did not do this, he would remain a prisoner of his own mind.
One might say Nelson Mandela spent much of his life evolving himself by self mastering the challenges of his life. One might also say, by modeling this self mastery, he was simultaneously parenting, not just his family, but also his country, and the entire world.
Perhaps every parent’s journey is toward self mastery and so also, to be a parental figure to others. Taking that approach, Nelson Mandela was more than prepared for the leadership task that lay ahead of him. He ultimately walked into the history books as the man of the century.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER:
1. Inner transformation is both a cause and the effect of parenting.
2. Inner transformation is a journey to self mastery.
3. Self mastery is learning to meet life’s challenges successfully.
4. Meeting life challenges needs an openness to learn from every experience.
5. Learning about life is learning about its duality of equal pain and pleasure.
6. Life’s duality shows us there is pleasure in every pain and vice versa.
7. Mandela thrived from discovering the pleasure in the pains of his life.
8. Mandela’s life was a perfect example of the duality of nature.
9. Nelson Mandela modeled parent perfectly…transforming everyone.
10. Nelson Mandela parented perfectly his family, his country and the world.
YOUR TAKE AWAY TOOL:
UNCOVERING YOUR MANDELA PARENTING STYLE
Step 1: Identify one of your most challenging life events to date.
Step 2: Identify one thing you learned about yourself from that event which transformed you and which you still value…even today.
Step 3: Identify how what you learned about yourself affects the way you parent others… your children, spouse, siblings, friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc.
Step 4: Now identify another challenging life event and follow the same process.
Step 5: Notice how your life challenges contribute to your parenting style just like Nelson Mandela.