(Today is Nelson Mandela Day in South Africa. This will be my contribution to one of Mary Nonkwelo’s “Share Your Story” Books – The Empowerment Network)
My most fortunate chance meeting with Nelson Mandela takes me back to late 1995 when I was preparing for my 3rd visit to South Africa from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. On the way out the door, I made a very bold statement to my wife Beverley and my two sons Ryan and Shane. It went something like this, “during this trip to South Africa I am going to personally meet Nelson Mandela!” Well, needless to say there was lots of laughter and comments like “are you dreaming?”, “get real dad”, “I know it’s great to be positive but it will take more than positive thinking!” At the airport one of my sons even said, “say hello to Nelson Mandela for us when you see him dad,” followed with laughter and smiles.
Three weeks later I’m packing my suitcase getting ready to head back to Canada after a great few weeks of speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa! At the last minute I realized I had forgotten to buy gifts and that most of the shops were closed on a Sunday. I hopped in my car and made my way to the Rosebank Rooftop Market that I heard would be open. Suddenly in the middle of Rosebank, the traffic began to queue and eventually came to a halt…obviously a car accident. People were out of their cars looking at something. I asked one of them, “is there an accident?” His answer was, “no…The President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Madiba) is out for his Sunday afternoon walk…that is stopping the traffic!”
Then I noticed to my right a wall of body guards giving President Mandela the privacy and room to walk. I pulled over and parked the car and quickly walked to the wall of body guards and took a deep breath and asked “can I meet President Mandela?” They answered “not today, he is just out for a leisurely stroll.”
Then from behind the wall of body guards came Nelson Mandela’s voice…“ask him if he is Canadian” (If I had of been an Australian at that time I think I would have said I was a Canadian! :-)) I said “yes” and he replied, “let him through.” Wow…the power of thought and the power of taking a chance and asking! (By the way Nelson Mandela is an honorary citizen of Canada.)
I stepped into his presence and he grasped my hand in the most sincere handshake fashion imaginable. He asked me my name and then proceeded to ask where I was from? I told him Nova Scotia…he then said, “what part of Nova Scotia?” I answered, a little community called Newport Station about 8 kilometres from a town called Windsor. He then said, “that’s in the Annapolis Valley.” I answered, “that’s correct.” He then proceeded to tell me that the Annapolis Valley is known for their apples and that in May each year the people of the Annapolis Valley have the Apple Blossom Festival. I was surprised how much he knew.
Then he asked me what my dad did for a living. I explained that he was a diesel mechanic for the Gypsum Open Pit Mining Company for 35 years. Then he asked about my mother. I explained that for many years she was a waitress in a local family restaurant. He then said, “Bill, you are from humble beginnings.” I answered with “I would have to agree that you are correct.”
From there he proceeded to ask if I had brothers or sisters. I explained I had one sister Sharon. He even asked about her children. He at one point looked at the ring on my finger and said; “you are married Bill…your wife’s name?” We then talked about Beverley, my wife and my two sons Shane and Ryan. We also talked about Vancouver, British Columbia where we resided.
Eventually he asked me what I was doing in South Africa. I explained that I was a speaker and trainer with a focus on entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and people development. He then said, “Bill we really need people like you in our country. You do not have to answer me right now, although I am going to ask you to please consider staying in our country and help us grow our people and our country.” We spoke for about 10 minutes and all the time we chatted he held my hand and looked squarely into my eyes. The only way I can describe it is…I had just had a rare experience of being with a man who was deeply rested in his being! I could feel the peace within Nelson Mandela. It was a spiritual experience. I was electrified.
How wonderful…he recognized the Canadian accent. He wasn’t political or all business…he wanted to know about me as a person, where I was from and information about my family. All of us could take a lesson from Nelson Mandela’s way of dealing with people. There is a saying that people will often forget the words we use but they will always remember how we made them feel. I felt special, I felt his sincerity, his humbleness and his caring yet powerful presence. I will never forget how he made me feel. Thank-you Madiba! 19 years later and I am still here in South Africa.
There is a message here not only for ourselves as individuals, also for our communities, countries, businesses and families. Try to remember…“people go where they are invited and stay where they are appreciated.” Nelson Mandela invited me to stay. Wow!
One other important life lesson I learned from Nelson Mandela is that we all like the feeling of status, an important position or role. The feeling of power is a great feeling. That is why we like to be empowered. Nelson Mandela is unique. When it came to the use of Power, Nelson Mandela also had it right. He was quoted saying after becoming President of South Africa, “The problem I have “is not” how to use power. My biggest problem is how “not” to use power.” Let me repeat what he said. He said, “The problem I have “is not” how to use power. My biggest problem is how “not” to use power.”
In his book Leading Like Madiba, (Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela) Martin Kalungu-Banda got it right. He wrote:
- Where he could punish, he tried to understand the position of the one at fault
- He practised restraint, when he could have used power to settle scores with those who had treated him and his colleagues as if they did not matter
- When he was in such a strong position that he could push others to comply with him, he preferred to consult, persuade and even plead in order to settle matters
Instead of intimidating people with his power, he chose to bargain and quite often forgo the short term “sweet victory.”
If all those who are called or think of themselves as leaders, learnt how not to use power, our homes, our work places and our world could be friendlier, happier and even maybe more peaceful.
Martin Kalungu-Banda is correct with that statement. As a parent, government official, as a place of worship leader, as a supervisor, manager, teacher or boss and even as a spouse we could all follow Nelson Mandela’s example.
What are the seven lessons I learned from Nelson Mandela?
- What you believe will or can happen…the power of positive thinking…backed up with action. I believed it could happen and it happened because when the opportunity appeared I moved to action. (Be courageous and ask.)
- I learned that when I meet others, I need to stop talking about me and invest more time letting others talk about themselves.
- Ask sincere questions, be focused, have eye contact and remember to help the other person feel good about him or herself…empower people.
- Listen to understand others, including those close to me, rather than listening just to respond, advise, defend or sell my point of view.
- It is nice to be important although it is more important for me to be nice. Kindness and sincerity makes a big difference in our lives and the lives of others.
- If I have “The Power”, look for ways “not to use power” rather than looking for all the ways to use power.
- People go where they are invited and stay where they are appreciated. 19 years later I am still here and only a few days ago my African grandson, David William Gibson was born here in Johannesburg, South Africa. I officially now have roots in South Africa as well as in Canada.
Madiba you will live on in my mind and heart forever. I am so grateful that I met you…such a giant of a man during one of my first visits to South Africa. What a privilege! We need more role models like Nelson Mandela in this world. You are and always will be a legend…you will live forever. I am blessed to have been influenced by you.
On August 17th & 18th, 2016 I am running a 2 day workshop in Johannesburg titled Turn Your Sales & Marketing Into Real Profits…In Any Economy http://billgibsonspeaker.com/turn_your_sales_and_marketing_into_real_profits_in_any_economy/
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Bill Gibson is a Canadian who is living in South Africa. He is an international speaker and author and a developer of sales, service, marketing, collecting, employee morale building, personal development and entrepreneurial training programs and systems. His blog is www.bill-gibson.com and his website is www.kbitraining.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +27-11-784-1720 in South Africa. You can follow Bill Gibson on Twitter: @billgibson1, connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gibsonbill or Knowledge Brokers International SA Pty Ltd Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/knowledgebrokers?ref=hl