Showing generosity and restraint in leadership

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote about the film “Invictus” and how Nelson Mandela early in his term as South Africa’s president engaged the country’s Rugby team, the Springboks, on a campaign to win the Rugby World Cup. His objective was to leverage the nearly all-white team to advance the healing process shortly after the end of apartheid. He did this over the objections of his black advisors and the newly formed black-led South African Sports Committee, which wanted to change the team name and colours to abolish symbols of white domination. In the movie, Morgan Freeman, playing the role of Mandela, says to those voicing objections, That’s selfish thinking . . . It does not serve the nation . . . We have to surprise them with our generosity and restraint.” Friedman emphasises that line’s last sentence.

It seems rare to see such surprises in today’s contentious and litigious world. How often do we see leaders and ordinary people do extraordinary things by genuinely rising above grievances, pettiness, political differences, anger, and self-righteousness to promote a greater end, to do what is best overall and for all parties, to promote long term objectives, and heal wounds? When we witness it, we also see greatness. It takes courage, strength of character, sensitivity and wisdom to buck prevailing opinion by one’s closest constituents, advisors, colleagues and friends – and surprise opponents with “generosity and restraint” by pursing a path of renewal. It is also how trust is restored.

I think of my own relationships and quarrels with others and how I have not always shown generosity and restraint. I am also aware of the many times when I have and the positive outcomes they generated more often than not. Sometimes we all get caught up in the moment and our emotions get the best of us. Even when that happens, it is never too late to acknowledge reacting poorly or selfishly and making amends. That’s a path toward rejuvenating damaged relationships.

Consider how you can surprise others with whom you have had differences or fights by showing restraint and generosity of spirit. Think about the benefits of restoring broken relationships and healing old wounds. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving past right and wrong; and taking responsibility and apologizing for your part in creating the situation. I believe that is a sign of a truly great person – great in stature and character regardless of position in life.

Demonstrating generosity and restraint may not only be the right thing to do, it can also facilitate pursuing your goals and living a positive, meaningful and gratifying life. Capturing and celebrating the spoils of victory may bring momentary satisfaction; however, much more can be accomplished and sustained long term when we are magnanimous. It also exemplifies our values and strength of character.

With thanks and acknowledgements to Steve Weitzenkorn who first published this article in his blog, Find – Fulfill – Flourish.

Who have you surprised with generosity and restraint?

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