By Daniella Bien-Aime
Daniella Bien-Aime is the founder of the Bien-Aime Post, a digital platform that focuses on business, leadership, education, and social media, within the context of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti. Follow her on Twitter @dbienaime.
Is your heart breaking from the recent turmoil in our world?
Do you find yourself asking whatever happened to leading with courage, dignity, and sacrifices?
The recent political and social uprisings that have resulted in massive demonstrations in North Korea, Haiti, and in the United States have grabbed our attention. These passionate attempts to right wrongs have strained us to face the complacency and some of the ineffectiveness of our government, justice system, and those in authority.
To lead in any capacity is to change our environment for the better. Hence, the life and leadership of Jesus, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and Nelson Mandela. They are among history’s most productive and successful leaders.
We can learn from them, and how they led with their soul — notably Nelson Mandela, who will be the primary subject of this article. These men and women conducted their mission with character and dignity that to this day are universally appealing.
The leadership crisis that exists from business to government institutions, and to religious systems should be a cause for alarm and should make us examine men like Mandela.
A compelling aspect of Mandela’s life was his deliberate focus on working towards obtaining dignity and equality for others. Anthony Sampson, in his book, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, acknowledged, “Mandela’s primary appeal was not as a man of power, but as … a leader who stood out for fundamental principles and who gave hope for the future to all oppressed people and all countries torn by racial division.”
If we could aspire to follow one principle that Mandela lived by, in practice, not in speech, we would make significant social progress. As an optimist and flawed admirer of Mandela’s, I’d like to share three ideas his life embodies, and if so desired, you too can emulate.
Leading Requires Emotional Consciousness
To be emotionally conscious is to recognize the malice that is contaminating our human spirits and have the strength to wake up. Emotional consciousness stipulates that we become aware when we are hurting and offending others, and recognize when others are suffering. In other words, we start embracing the idea that when one hurts, we all hurt in some way.
Mandela was emotionally conscious of how others affected him and how he affected those around him. Sampson reported, “Fifty years later… during a presentation, Mandela shared, ‘I am what I am, both as a result of people who respected me and helped me, and of those who did not respect me and treated me badly.” He was conscious of those who withheld themselves from him, and those who treated him with dignity.
Some questions to think about: Is there a sense of self- awareness of how your behaviors create mistrust? Are we aware of how our character offends others? I know for me, unless I am mindful, I can quickly become oblivious. Our behavior does impact people; irrelevant if we are aware of it or not. And from my experience, there cannot be any influence without trust.
Leading Requires Political Consciousness
The lack of political consciousness in our society is telling. What I mean by politically unaware is that many are living in a state of political self-satisfaction. Others use religion to remain uninformed.
No one is advocating that we spend our lives combating political slights, but as someone once shared with me, “the personal is the political.” There is a sense by many that as long as the laws and opportunities benefit their family and themselves, they can remain undisturbed.
The notion of caring about our egotism is prevalent. However, we do not live independent of our community, so we are either building or demolishing our local and national communities by taking such a backseat approach to politics.
Take, for instance, the U.S. healthcare government website setback we experienced prior to its launch. It was devastating to learn about the financial devastation that so many families face due to the lack of access to healthcare. Regrettably, many people were unmoved by the pain of others’ experiences.
This article is not about taking President Obama’s side or advocating on behalf of the government. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that we want the United States to succeed as a nation. And, let’s reflect on the political ill will that this issue has brought about in America. Who is hurting? Some of the people who are affected by Obamacare are our co-workers, family members, neighbors, and friends.
Meanwhile, let’s consider how providing a nation with access to health benefits personally affects President Obama — it does not! One has to admire his courage in continuing the struggle that others have started. He was willing to become a sacrificial lamb and endure all the negativities, arguments, and personal attacks on his character in order to ensure that millions would have access to healthcare.
As an immigrant whose been working in this country since her teenage years, and one who might one day need The Affordable Care Act, I find it a relief for the sense of security it provides.
Seemingly, millions of other Americans felt a sense of relief too. Prior to this article’s publication, more than six million people and counting have registered for health benefits.
Another Mandela’s principles remind us, “a fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
Grippingly, the individual self-interest and the lack of regard for the unfortunate are consistent across international borders. Since I write about Haiti in some of my other ventures, I see the same malaise in those who hold positions of authority in that country too. There seems to be a focus on enriching oneself as opposed to understanding how the collective success of the nation is beneficial for all.
The economic strength of a few depends on the collaboration and growth of the masses. To be politically conscious are to recognize how all these factors play out and have a plan to increase, and work on, creating access for others.
Leading Requires Authenticity
It is taxing to write about authenticity without becoming vulnerable. I have by no means arrived when it comes to authenticity, but I am a work in progress, and I desire to be authentic.
In one of the articles in Psychology Today, Mel Schwartz, defines an authentic individual as “a person, who is completely trustworthy, is deemed to be authentic.” In contrast, what we have mastered is to be, “politically correct, false, flattery, people pleasing, avoidance and silence.”
A lack of authenticity significantly damages both personal and business relationships. Schwartz argued, “Even more problematically, the opportunity for a more meaningful dialog that might generate a better understanding between parties becomes blocked, as the truth never quite gets revealed.”
The goal of becoming authentic is to create meaningful relationships with the ability to attract people whom we can add value to their lives. Schwartz further emphasized, “Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self-irrespective of the consequences… Very often our actions at a given moment are intended to avoid certain consequences. These tendencies diminish our authenticity, and they constrain our growth and self-esteem.”
Perhaps the most commanding form of a compliment that Mandela received came directly from a former member of his cabinet. Dr. Calestous Juma gave the rest of the world, at least on Twitter, a personal anecdote of Mandela’s authenticity. Juma stated, that the closer he got to Mandela, the more genuine and consistent he found him to be. The point here is the private self must be in harmony with the public self.
As I bring this to an end, I want to share a personal story. I went to a friend’s funeral several weeks ago. Her death was a shock because it was sudden. She went to the hospital just before Thanksgiving and never came home. She left her husband and two children, both under the ages of 10.
She was someone most would consider ordinary, yet she lived an extraordinary life because of the incredible positive impact she had on everyone around her. This ordinary woman had over 400 people at her funeral. People flew in from around the U.S. and overseas just to attend.
During her eulogy, the common theme was that she loved people deeply; she was kind, faithful, fair and loyal. I walked away from the funeral hoping that when I die, people will not have any difficulty in finding sincere, positive things to share about my character and how I lived.
The experience has made me more determined to live a life of purpose. The lesson I learned from my friend is that a leader’s values and character are consistent, no matter what the context. The actual test of leadership is to have the courage to live a regular, extraordinary life.