My wife sent me this Time Magazine article about Nelson Mandela and leadership.
- Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.
- Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind.
- Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front.
- Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport.
- Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer.
- Appearances matter — and remember to smile.
- Nothing is black or white.
- Quitting is leading too.
Most of these have been said before, but I liked the juxtaposition of 2 and 3. Adaptable leaders are able to smoothly transition between leading from the front and leading from the back. They know that different situations call for different styles, and they can recognize when it is time to switch from one style to the other.
Mandela’s sixth lesson of leadership is one that took me awhile to come to terms with. It’s a common prejudice of people with technical backgrounds to distrust anyone who looks like they put more thought into style than substance. But I’ve learned over the years, that appearances do matter. That people will make a judgement about your competence based on how you look. Do you look successful? Do you look like you know what you’re doing? You can have all the brains in the world, but in the end, so much of your career comes down to selling–selling yourself, selling your product, selling your ideas. And selling depends a lot on perceptions.
There’s nothing you can do about other people’s perceptions, so you have no choice but to play the game. Buy some nice, professional-looking clothes. Get a decent haircut. Heck, I’ve even been known to get a manicure before really important meetings when I want to make sure I look sharp.