Change Agents in the Spirit of Mandela

Kindness Respect


“I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change” – Nelson Mandela at the launch of The Elders on July 18, 2007.

Key Point: Though Mandela’s health was failing for the past few years, his recent death was still met with an emotional response throughout the world. Tata, or “Father” as Mandela was also known, will be remembered as a true leader and human of incredible greatness and justice. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us—he belongs to the ages,” said President Barack Obama in a speech following Mandela’s passing.

Over the last few days I have read and listened to what people who knew Mandela have been saying in tribute. So many adjectives apply, but the one word that seems to be at or near the top of every list is KINDNESS. It was unconditional love that allowed him to save and transform South Africa after it easily could have burned to the ground during the dangerous transition from apartheid.

Mandela teaches us that the truest freedoms and the greatest liberation are deeply connected to an endless love for humanity. In his own words, as seen in the above quote, “in the end it is kindness.”

There are so many examples of how Mandela lived kindness and how he lit up a room with it. The following story exemplifies this value in a very basic way:

Eddie Daniels was a close friend of Mandela, and he served a 15-year prison sentence on Robben Island while Mandela was incarcerated there. Shortly after Daniels arrived at the prison, he was assigned a duty to empty the chamber pots, or “buckets” of other prisoners. Daniels, a man who was skilled at disabling electrical power grids and thus was considered a dangerous terrorist by the apartheid government, could not bring himself to accept toilet duty. Daniels was desperately struggling with his situation. That’s when Mandela, who did not know Daniels at the time, walked over to the newly arrived prisoner, put an arm around him and told him that he would help him perform the duty. Daniels said he could only marvel and stand in awe at the gesture. Mandela understood his angst and anger. But he also understood the valuable role that Daniels had played in the fight for freedom for black and colored South Africans. Mandela came to his rescue and in this basic act revealed KINDNESS, compassion – and love.” As Mandela notes, this is perhaps the most powerful form of LEADERSHIP.

Character Moves:

  1. How about you and I just work a little more at acting with intentional kindness on a daily basis? We can get so caught up self-judging whether we are really getting the results of a life worth living, etc… We can forget that every day provides so much opportunity for our KIND behavior to contribute. As Marshall McLuhan so aptly said, “the medium is the message.”
  2. Rather than limit ourselves to thinking about acting kindly as a “cute and cuddly” discretionary approach for those attracted to mush headed soft skills, or for people who like websites and YouTube videos involving kittens, how about applying KIND behavior as a catalyst for REAL CHANGE? Kind does NOT mean weak or soft. It is a constructive weapon for change agents.
  3. Do you and I light up a room because people know that we are naturally kind and well intentioned? Do we behave with kindness because that is part of our life’s purpose rather than thinking about it as an “event?” Hey, our individual chances of impacting the world like Mandela are unlikely, but if we collectively breathe in his spirit? Well that is how sustainable change happens.

Mandela is The Triangle (and more),


P.S. On the notion of kindness and Respect, Mandela was affectionately known as Madiba by family, close friends, and dedicated South African supporters.


Grace or a Disgrace at the Holiday Party

Gratitude Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: What would you do? Your company is having a holiday party and you have been asked to say “grace” five minutes before dinner in front of several hundred people. You step up to the microphone and…

Dr. Peter Adler is quoted saying, “the multi-cultural person is someone who is intellectually and emotionally committed to the fundamental unity of all human beings while at the same time recognizes, legitimizes, accepts and appreciates the fundamental differences that lie between people of different cultures.”

A great piece of well-researched work on multiculturalism, The Intercultural Development Continuum, identifies one’s capability to accurately understand and adapt to cultural difference and commonality. The Continuum shows progression from a mono-cultural mind set to an inter-cultural mindset. The journey along The Continuum includes denial, polarization, minimization, acceptance and adaption. After hundreds of thousands of survey results, Canadians and Americans are on average at the minimization stage. In this stage, there is somewhat of a declared orientation that highlights cultural commonality and universal values, but it also masks the ability to achieve deeper recognition and appreciation of cultural differences. In some ways, this is a limitation to the thought that, “people are just people,” and essentially the same.

Adaptation, the highest level of orientation, is the capability to shift perspective and change behavior in culturally appropriate and authentic ways. This does not mean giving up on one’s heritage or beliefs, but having the authentic ability to adapt, bridge, and really see matters through the eyes of others versus accepting the differences of others through your own eyes. It takes INTENTION and PRACTICE to develop into the adaptive orientation. Most people think they are further along The Continuum than they really are.

Back to the “grace” request above… A lot of people, not very far along the cultural competence journey, might think or say… “This is a Christian country. Instead of a Holiday Party, lets call it a Christmas party… The Lord’s Prayer would the appropriate ‘grace.’” I wonder how the employees who are Jews, Muslim, Hindu, etc. in attendance might feel about this perspective?

Character Moves:

  1. Emotional Intelligence is based on excellent self-awareness of oneself and compassion towards others. Spiritual Intelligence, based on the wonderful work of Cindy Wigglesworth and others, involves deep self-awareness and the ability to authentically bridge and adapt to the varied views. Know where you are on your Intercultural development. Learn more here.
  2. Once you know where you stand on The Continuum, go on an Intercultural “study trip” by participating in the everyday encounters with people from other cultures in more authentic adaptive ways. Put yourself inter-culturally out there and enjoy the growth that travels with you. Go to that ethnic restaurant, view that foreign film and find out what you can learn through the eyes of others.
  3. Remember that being inter-culturally authentic also means applying moral, or ethical judgments of others by better understanding what a cultural practice represents in a different community. The ability to be inter-culturally component is another important step in the respect continuum of The Character Triangle.

Inter-culturally competent in The Triangle,



Playing Leadership ‘Small Ball’ to Win!

Abundance Gratitude Personal leadership


Key Point: Perhaps people spend too much time looking exclusively for the big wins to advance their careers. Certainly, exposure and a proven reputation for achieving great results are important and ultimately necessary for career progression. However, so many people have their head on a swivel looking for that big hit or connection that they might not give sufficient attention to the many little things that differentiate themselves on value. In baseball, the equivalent is playing “small ball,” concentrating on doing all the basics versus mostly trying hit the home run.

I recently read comments from two married couples celebrating 81 and 88 years of marriage (Yup, no typo… More than 80 years living with the same person) :). While no one really knows the formulae for marriage success these days, one common thing in these two relationships was “playing marriage small ball,” attending to the respectful little things between each other.

I believe the same opportunity applies to leadership. People may not give doing little stuff the attention required. It’s like an athlete that doesn’t fully compete until the whistle blows, finish line crossed, or practice ends etc. The last few minutes or steps of any process are often most important, and for some reason (usually mental), we pull back or step out rather than up. Let me give you a few very practical examples:

1. You come home tired and you haven’t given anyone recognition for a few days, but instead of hitting the couch, you take time to write out three recognitions.

2. You are going to a company holiday party and you know how much energy it takes to be present. You want to rest on the taxi ride to the event, but you take out the email and go through everyone’s names again.

3. You know how important it is to acknowledge people personally… You see an article in a newspaper that could be very valuable to a colleague…it’s a distraction to your Sunday reading, but you find the link, and forward it to them… Etc, etc… All just wee examples of “playing leadership small ball.”

Character Moves:

  1. Ask yourself how good you are at leadership “small ball?” Are you always looking to add just a little more value without expecting reciprocation? Or do you find that too mentally exhausting? Why?
  2. If you think it’s of use, consider playing just a little more “small ball” in your business and personal life. I’m not talking about anything too obsessive but just a few more things to finish the “daily game” on a high note. Finish strong. Identify five or six practical examples for yourself and just do it.
  3. Remember not to expect anything in return. Be a “giver” not a “matcher,” as Adam Grant advises. Enjoy the satisfaction of adding more value to other people every day in little ways too. Like I say, “you’re worth it.”

Playing small ball in The Triangle,