As I watch the current events unfold in Iraq, and the Middle East at large, I am reminded of an incredibly insightful blog post by Larry Miller [Management Meditations] last year, comparing the presidencies of Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. Larry points out that the biggest difference between them is that when Mandela got into office, he set as his highest priority to unite the peoples of South Africa as one country and instill national pride, while Morsi consolidated his power and tried to kill or get rid of everyone that opposed him. Mandela’s passionate statement “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” summed up the goals of his presidency. It was only by demonstrating sincere respect, consideration, and warmth as a leader, particularly to his previous oppressors and those who the most to fear from his leadership, that he was able to move forward and unite the country.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, seems to be making the same mistake as Morsi and other failed leaders. Instead of reaching out to the Sunnis and the Kurds in an attempt to unite the country, Maliki accuses those who oppose him of being terrorists, criminals, and enemies of the state. This enrages and strengthens his opponents, and allows them to justify their own murderous actions. He would be wise to follow the leadership lessons of Mandela.
So how does this apply to you as a leader? Most likely you are not facing a literal armed insurrection (!) but you may be dealing with spoken or unspoken opposition, resistance to change, and impediments to implementing your vision. As a leader, are you reaching out to understand, acknowledge, and if possible, incorporate alternate points of view? Or is it ‘my way or the highway’? Remember that your purpose as a leader is to unite your group and get them to focus their collective energy on working toward a common vision. No corporate leader today has the luxury of having his enterprise operate on only half its cylinders.
You can read Larry’s full blog post at: http://www.lmmiller.com/blog/2013/07/03/corporate-culture/mandela-morsi-and-the-legitimacy-of-leaders/