“We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without and fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.“
Nelson Mandela, Inaugural Address, Pretoria 9 May 1994.
At a time of deep division and growing populism on both sides of the Atlantic, it is important to remind ourselves what great leadership looks like.
‘Great leadership involves valuing all people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, gender or any other individual difference. It entails listening to them, understanding where they are coming from and respecting their opinion, even if you don’t agree with it.’
As many great political and business leaders like Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg have shown us.
‘It is typically through this deep listening, empathy and encouragement that new breakthroughs, possibilities and remarkable human accomplishments occur.’
Why? Because progressive and free societies require positive and encouraging conditions where all people can thrive, be at their best and build a positive future together. A great leader knows this and takes care to create the conditions where people can use their talents and openly share, consider and debate different perspectives to achieve a more positive future together.
‘A great leader will encourage consensus building and where this cannot be achieved, will take time to explain the rationale for a chosen path.’
Only insecure people or those with poor leadership instincts divide, undermine, bully and scapegoat people. They are the ones that want to look good at all costs. They push hard for their personal agenda in the interests of the few, not the many. Often these people are narcissists. However, sometimes they are simply motivated only by power, greed and self-interest. Because their actions are divisive, short-term and self-serving, their leadership often leaves a negative impact on their followers (and the organization/society) that takes time to undo.
‘We need more leaders like Mandela in business, politics and society. We can generally choose our leadership path or if we’re not leaders, the type of leader we want to follow. Let’s all choose wisely.’
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About the Author
Founder and MD | Leadership Consultant | Organizational Psychologist
James is a leadership consultant, organizational psychologist and executive coach. He has over 25 years’ experience working with leaders, teams and organizations globally to optimize their performance, talent and future success. He specializes in positive leadership, thriving workplaces, collaboration and influencing, organizational change and transformation, accelerating innovation and coaching executives and leaders in innovative sectors including Tech, Digital, E-commerce and Life Sciences.
Before setting up Plexus Leadership, James held leadership roles in HR and Talent Management in the UK and abroad with companies such as NatWest, Yahoo! and Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals. After this, he founded and led several talent and leadership consulting and assessment businesses, including Strengthscope®, an online strengths assessment and development business serving a wide range of UK and global clients. James grew this venture into a global market leader before selling the business in 2018.
James has supported, advised and coached leaders and teams globally across diverse industries and geographies. Clients he has worked with include Allen & Overy, Commvault, Equinor, Facebook, GSK, Hilton, John Lewis, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, NHS, Oracle, Sainsbury’s, Swiss Re, Tesco, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, WSP and Yahoo!.
James has a Master’s in Organizational Psychology, an MBA, an Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching and a Harvard Business qualification in Sustainable Business Strategy. He is a member of the Institute of Directors, the Association of Business Psychologists and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD). He is currently undertaking a PhD in Organizational Psychology examining the start-up experiences of Tech and Digital entrepreneurs.
James is a regular contributor and speaker on leadership, coaching, innovative talent management and the future of work. His most recent book, Optimize Your Strengths, explores how leaders can create thriving workplaces by inspiring and supporting people to optimize their potential and teamwork to deliver breakthrough results.