Pat Utomi: Leadership Lessons from Mandela to Nigeria

Pat Utomi: Leadership Lessons from Mandela to Nigeria

By Pat Utomi | Op-Ed Contributor on December 12, 2013
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Mr Mandela, who died last Thursday aged 95, was described as one of the most iconic world leaders in history

by Pat Utomi

Leaders must have eyes that see tomorrow and seek to transport all to that destination. Mandela saw a free South Africa, a world of the dignity of the human person and lived life, a life that was a transport vehicle moving those on his path to that destination.

When I teach leadership, I often raise the question of the twentieth century. Why did giants walk the earth as global leaders early in the century and the epoch ended with a dearth of global leaders, from Winston Church, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud etc and it closed with people like George W Bush, a classic non leaders, I ask what happened. But a scape goat from the age and tradition of Gandhi, still was on a long walk to freedom, stepping out another turn in in 1990. When he died as December dawned on 2013 his spirit had come to define the possibilities for the 21st century. Nelson Mandela, Commander of Umkhonto we siswe, the spear of the Nation who gave 27 of his years in prison, left us lessons for being exposed like a house set on the hill. What are some that could save us from ourselves.

Madiba was a walking classroom we could draw from to claim the promise of Nigeria that is so severely under threat from how we are led.

The one person considered a global leader when the dearth of global leaders was much acknowledged, Pope John Paul II did very well something Mandela was great at, which our leaders can use; pulling a fractured people into a rich tapestry of a united force pushing its diverse energies and talents towards a common good of progress of all. Leadership wannabe in extant Nigeria is so low on the nobility of spirit for recognizing the strength in difference and in finding grace to make friends of perceived adversaries. How so well Nelson Mandela walked that path as he marched down that long road to freedom.

That process of whipping together a diverse group who can generate synergy in sharing a common goal and applying so huge a pool of talent has several components very visible in Mandela’s walk which are in desperate need in Nigeria. The first is the eyes to see past the things that divide, to the common humanity of all, and the greater benefits to the parties of overcoming the differences. The second is in the skill to hear the muffled voices of the fractured parties and the smoothness of disposition to waltz past egos and noises to negotiate manoeuvres towards shared goals. Listening to several people who walked that long road with Mandela, including Dennis Goldberg, accused no 3 at the Rivonia trial where Mandela was accused no 1. Goldberg was in Lagos when Mandela died. The caucasian engineer who saw the justice of the freedom of all and was a soldier in umkhontho we siswe was eloquent in the portrayal of hearing those who have been denied a voice. Stephen R Covey in his final act, the 8th habit, indeed says giving voice to the voiceless will be the most important habit of the 21st century.

That manouvering to blend in a very divided South Africa of the Apartheid era involved a very Mandela skill, the ability to place himself in head of the opponent and try to understand his emotions, leaving room there from common ground.

It is remarkable how he did phenomenal things in humility, seeing himself as only a messenger. In truth what separated the days of the giants of the first half of the 20th century, and the also-rans of the second half, was a trend in culture that eroded self-sacrifice for the good of the others, as the rise of ego made man’s focus increasingly me, myself and I. Mandela represented self-sacrifice. Prisoner 4664 who did not lose hope in 27 years behind bars knows sacrifice. How much sacrifice do we see from our leaders who display a mindset in which the people are seen as conquered and part of the booty of war.

Leaders must have eyes that see tomorrow and seek to transport all to that destination. Mandela saw a free South Africa, a world of the dignity of the human person and lived life, a life that was a transport vehicle moving those on his path to that destination. Current public life in Nigeria often seems so lifeless regarding a future that could be owned by all and inspire the people towards it.

Just as important is for our future, is his detachment from the ruin of our politicians; clutching to power, money and the deploy of impunity.

Mandela proved to peak as an icon outside of power, deciding against a second term he did not have to strive for. There was indeed much irony in Gen. Obasanjo’s tribute as he recalled Mandela’s refusal to seek a 2nd term. Mandela wanted to teach a lesson that neither Mugabe nor Obasanjo could understand. In the main, it is the capacity to see the big picture and the future that defined leadership in both Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. Their sense of service and the trust it engendered, made the visionary disposition yielding of transforming leadership. What dominates extant leadership elite in Nigeria are transactions that enable power to be cornered and consolidated.

Ironically transformation is talked about a lot by power in Nigeria what we have in practice are transaction walk.

Our politicians will do well and read the Mandela transformation story. Our lives could be richer if they let it affect them. Underlying it all is love. To lead is to love. If you have not love in your heart you will not be able to tell what is best for a people apart from your self interest. This is where we are stuck. To love is to desire to serve and to serve is to live and live so abundantly that immortality is yours .Today our leader wannabes go from commissioner to Governor, to senator, to president, desperate to be around power yet so quickly forgotten within days of the demise of our mortal frame.

Jimmy Carter served one term and is remembered more for the years since he left office and Mandela serves one term and is assured of immortality among men even as he joins the ages. Lessons everywhere in the hope we can learn.

Pat Utomi is a political economist and professor of entrepreneurship is founder of the Centre for Values in Leadership.

 The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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