Nelson Mandela’s Leadership Personal Branding Principles

by | Executive Coaching for Better Leadership Success

Recently, I ran across a 2008 interview with Nelson Mandela regarding leadership that I really enjoyed reading. Published in Time Magazine, the article outlined eight leadership principles that Mandela used to build his distinguished career – and his very powerful leadership personal brand – as an activist and politician. All eight are interesting, but today, I want to focus on two of Mandela’s principles and how they apply to building a leadership personal brand in the business world.

Principle #1:

Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front. The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. The chief’s job, Mandela said, was not to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. ‘Don’t enter the debate too early,’ he used to say.”

What Mandela is doing here is advocating a democratic, or participative, leadership style. Let’s face it: As a business leader, there may be times when you have to use an authoritarian style and make a fast – and sometimes lonely – decision. But, the majority of the time, it makes sense to include direct reports in the decision-making process. Otherwise, why have you hired them in the first place? Great leaders know that they, too, are learning and growing every day on the job –even from those who are in subordinate positions.

So, build your leadership personal brand by:

(1) allowing others to have a say in decisions, and

(2) getting clear on when you need the expertise of others in order to make the most informed choices.

Principle #2:

Nothing is black or white. Life is never either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears.

This is an important reminder for all of us in every aspect of life – both personal and business. It’s fundamental to success to be able to see the nuances in any business situation, whether it involves launching a new product, dealing with a challenging employee, managing a tough boss, etc. The mind naturally wants to categorize everything in black or white terms, so most of us have to constantly remind ourselves to stop and look at all aspects of a situation. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall victim to making decisions based on tunnel vision, and that can lead to costly mistakes. Make sounder, smarter business decisions by pointing out nuances and contradictions to your team, and they will begin to see the situation more multi-dimensionally as well.

How can you apply these leadership principles to strengthen your own leadership personal brand?

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As a senior leader wanting to release your team’s productivity and advance to the top echelons of your industry, it’s vital to start by looking inward.

Brenda Bence is sought after across six continents as a Certified Executive Leadership Coach, internationally recognized branding expert, and the author of 11 award-winning books on leadership, coaching, and branding. A Global Certified Speaking Professional, Brenda is in demand as a top-rated motivational speaker, engaging audiences around the world, both in-person and virtually.

Recognized by Thinkers50 as a World Leader in Coaching, Brenda is also consistently ranked by Global Gurus as both a Top Ten Professional Coach and a Top 10 Branding Guru.

After earning her MBA from Harvard Business School, Brenda spent the first part of her career as senior executive in Fortune 100 multinationals, building brands across dozens of countries that spanned four continents. Now, as President of her own company and with offices in both Singapore and the United States, Brenda has transformed audiences and individual coaching clients around the world to help them achieve greater success through building inspiring leadership brands – from the inside out.

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