On Mandela Day, Xynteo's Emma Micklem reflects on Nelson Mandela's leadership qualities and what current and future business leaders can learn from the revolutionary former South African President. Leadership lessons from Mandela Born and raised in South Africa, Micklem believes that current global leaders can draw on the leadership capabilities of Mandela, known for his fight for freedom and racial reconciliation, to become fit for a future where commercial growth also solves humanity's biggest problems. "When Mandela became President, he was expected to remove from the government everyone who had opposed his ideas and was part of the old apartheid system. Surprisingly, he did the opposite and surrounded himself with people who held different opinions because he believed that kind of diversity made his decisions stronger", says Micklem, who has been at Xynteo for four years, working as head of partnerships and managing key programmes such as the Leadership Vanguard. Micklem emphasises that embracing different opinions like Mandela can benefit business leaders greatly. "For a leader, surrounding yourself with people who challenge your views is difficult, as it is most efficient to work with those who agree with you. However, having individuals who can potentially stall you and challenge your ideas is a very healthy thing", she continues. Reinventing growth through Mandela's leadership style Micklem's belief in Mandela's leadership style is palpable. "Mandela was an unconquerable spirit, who came out a better person after 27 years of harsh treatment in prison. His hope to achieve his goals of human rights and freedom was relentless", she says. She believes that Mandela's famous words, "it always seems impossible until it is done", applies to our mission at Xynteo. "For many of us, including our partners, our mission sometimes seems impossible, but we are working to achieve it one step at a time. We see glimmers of hope when we achieve something. For example, when we see one of the leaders we work with begin to operate differently and demonstrate good stewardship in their leadership".
Having closely witnessed apartheid in South Africa, Micklem is passionate about equality and making an impact on people's lives. "The most rewarding aspect of working at Xynteo is witnessing the change our projects can foster. For example, through helping women in India get employment, assisting entrepreneurs in South Africa set up their businesses, and recycling plastic in India to make the lives of waste pickers somewhat easier", she says. And all these projects are designed as collaborative efforts by businesses that understand the need to use commercial muscle in addressing some of these deep-rooted challenges. She believes her passion for working with people from different backgrounds is a result of her own experiences living away from South Africa. "Living in different countries can give you a curiosity and interest to learn and understand others' perspectives. Being surrounded by people from different backgrounds allows you to develop an appreciation for different opinions and ways of thinking rather than fearing it." This is the sixth installment of #XynteoLife, a monthly series which showcases a member of our team. Find our last one here.