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What do Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson have in common?

February 14, 2013

By Mark Hannum

According to a recent blog post by the smiling, grey haired founder of the Virgin Group, it turns out they have a lot in common. And according to Linkage Principal Consultant Mark Hannum, we can learn a lot about leadership and courage from Mandela, and…..the Chilean miner rescue too.—Ed.

Monday, February 11th, was the 23rd anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from a South African prison. While Mandela has taught us so much about leadership, compassion, and just being human, his release, much like the Chilean miner rescue, signaled a global change in governance. Let me explain…..

Not everyone remembers what happened 23 years ago when F.W. de Klerk was running South Africa and the country was going downhill in every way possible. Seeing that its policies were making it a pariah in the world, deKlerk had no choice but to release Mandela. But what’s interesting to me is how he and the South African government did it. They went public with their intent. They published and communicated their plan. They executed it, step by step, all out in the open.

The big day was February 2, 1990 when the deKlerk government legitimized the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations. And then, on February 11th, in front of the whole world, Mandela was released from prison. He was brought to a television studio where he addressed South Africa and the world. Everything was done with total transparency. There was a great deal of risk associated with every step of the plan. But deKlerk still went ahead with total transparency. If anything had gone wrong, the world would have known instantaneously.

Think back to the rescue of the Chilean miners. Again, lots of risk and the chance of success was actually very small. Still, the government was completely transparent—even allowing everything to be telecast via an open website 24/7. Had the rescue failed, we would have known at the same time as the Chilean government. Of course, had the rescue failed, everyone would also know that the Chilean government was fully committed to the rescue and did everything possible to save those lives.

Both examples fully utilized the available technology of their day. Both examples show full commitment to execution in high risk situations. In both cases, we saw for ourselves the intention and the full commitment of the leadership. Both riveted the world. Both leadership teams put darkness and despair behind them, worked as a team, and showed us just how great humanity can be. Their reputations were on the line. Their discipline and focus were evident. They were both quick to share credit. And, of course, both teams of leaders were able to answer “why” they were doing what they were doing….both had a higher purpose.

Are you committed enough to your big idea to go public with it? You should be, and Linkage can help.

More about Mark:
Mark Hannum

Mark Hannum is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. He has over twenty years of experience in organizational and leadership development, systems thinking, coaching, competency modeling, and executive team building and alignment. Mark’s skilled leadership and innovation has resulted in the successful implementation of many organizational design projects with client mergers and acquisitions.

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