10 lessons Trump could learn from Madiba

2017-01-26 10:49
Mandela raises clenched fist, arriving to address mass rally, a few days after his release from jail, 25 February 1990, in  Bloemfontein. (Trevor Samson, AFP)

Mandela raises clenched fist, arriving to address mass rally, a few days after his release from jail, 25 February 1990, in Bloemfontein. (Trevor Samson, AFP)

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Mandela as a leader, a statesman, and symbol of freedom, has taken on a mythical status. But he was also human, and had his flaws like anyone else, even though we saw little of those.

He was also humble, and would never have been presumptuous enough to think that he could give instruction on leadership to others, but purely led by shining example. Fortunately I am not bound by the same unattainably high standards.

President Donald Trump could, however, definitely do with some instruction, although he is unlikely to be receptive to any advice, as he thinks he already knows everything.

Here are 10 leadership lessons he should take from Madiba:

1. It’s not about you

The campaign is over. Once you have won, you are the leader of everyone, including those who didn’t vote for you. It’s the position that is important, not you as a person. Once that goes, the adulation stops. Ask any retired school principal or politician. As a leader, you are a servant of the people, not their master. You are not in this position to boost your ego – you have a country to run. I simply cannot emphasise this enough – it is no longer about you.

2. Real power comes to those who don’t get off on it

When power itself is an aphrodisiac, the running of a country in a decent and efficient manner takes a back seat. The politician who is primarily in it for his/her own interests, will always put those above the interests of the people. And the people are not blind. They quickly find out who truly has their interests at heart. Mandela became one of the most powerful people on earth, purely because power in itself had no attraction at all for him.

3. Self-interest as a policy is unsustainable

You are no longer running a casino. Trying to ruin your competition is no longer on the agenda. Any first-year economy student would know that you cannot dictate economic trends any more than in the most marginal fashion. People and countries need each other to survive. When promoting your own interests to the detriment of others, you are harming yourself in the long run. Basically, if the ship sinks, it matters little that you are in the luxury cabin.

4. Temper your anger/irritation

As a leader of the free world, what is required now is dignity, self-control and a presidential air. This is no longer reality TV, or your own boardroom, where you can snap at people, fire them as you please, and send nasty and childish tweets like a spiteful and miffed adolescent. Making personal comments and belittling critics in public should be beyond the president of the US. In fact, beyond any president at all. Name calling and belittling behaviour reveals as much more about you as it does about your opponent.

5. Get the press on your side

Attacking members of the media is a bit like poking a pitbull terrier with a stick through the bars while his cage is not locked. Journalists are powerful people, and they can sway public opinion for or against you. They also have websites and newspapers to fill every day, and if you behave badly, you are giving them endless opportunities to lambast you. Don’t put the blame on them for merely reporting your bad behaviour. Behave well, and all the money in the world could not pay for the good publicity they could give you.

6. You cannot fake sincerity

Maybe for a month or two on the campaign trail, but not in the long run. When kind people smile, the smile reaches their eyes. People know just how much you care about them – or how little. In an ideal world, politics would not attract the purely self-interested, but power and status are powerful drawings cards to a certain type of personality, which is, unfortunately, over-represented in the political arena. It’s not that power in itself corrupts, power attracts the corruptible, to quote Frank Herbert.

7. Listen to your advisers, especially the ones who disagree with you

High positions often isolate the holders. This can easily lead to those in power having skewed perceptions of reality, as they surround themselves with like-minded, frightened yes-men. Listen to a wide variety of experts (which you are not, possibly except on how to run a casino) and consider their advice carefully. Accept that you do not always know best and that it is often in your interest rather to listen than to talk. Remember the Romanian dictator Ceausescu, who until he was ripped apart by crowds in the streets after his execution, really thought everyone loved him.

8. Not everything in life is a competition

To survive in politics, you need to win friends and influence people. You cannot survive with a win-lose strategy. It has to be win-win for things to be sustainable. One needs to be gracious, especially in victory. A punitive and triumphant manner is simply ugly, not to speak of unwise. The old saying, ”be nice to people on your way up, as you might meet them again on your way down”, is applicable here. When you are governing a country, you cannot behave as you would if you were doing a hostile takeover of the casino next door.

9. Fearmongering and scapegoating divide a nation.

Divide and rule is a short-lived tactic. The role of a president is to reassure minorities, not to attack them. Some of these freedoms have been hard won – inch by inch over decades. Stomping on those will create an enormous amount of ill-will. This will outweigh the temporary support it might win for you. Stress the similarities between people, not their differences, and treat all people with respect, however different they may be from you. Every person is important and every person’s story is important. Never forget that.

10. Respect is earned 

Respect is earned over time and is a reward for good and sensible and well-considered governance. It is also earned by doing things such as treating all people politely and kindly and with respect – including your wife. Respect does not come with a position. In fact, the higher and more public the position, the greater are the chances of immense failure and public humiliation. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    madiba  |  nelson mandela  |  donald trump  |  leadership

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