The enigmatic Nelson Mandela was the son of a tribal leader. In one of the early interviews after his release from prison, Madiba was asked about lessons that he learned from his father.
He told the journalist how he often observed how his father conducted tribal indabas. The men always sat in a circle – perhaps to show that everybody was equal? But what made a deep impression on his young mind, was the fact that his father, even though he was the leader, always spoke last.
His father never shared his opinion on a matter before everyone else had had a turn to speak. He didn’t nod in agreement nor shook his head when someone raised a standpoint contrary to his. He simply listened attentively and asked for clarification when it was needed.
And then, once every member of the group had had his say, Mandela’s father would summarise the different arguments and options, recognising the value of all contributions. He would put all the issues at stake and challenges into perspective – and only then would he give his own opinion.
What Mandela realised, was that his father’s discipline to hold his own opinion to last was more than clever. It demonstrated his patience, humility, and strength of character. But it was also a powerful strategy. His comrades felt heard and respected and mostly accepted their chief’s final wisdom.
The fact that the chief spoke last, gave him the advantage of knowing everybody’s arguments – their hearts and minds – and this made it much easier for him to play his final trump card.
If Madiba could learn from his father’s wisdom – shouldn’t we too? Practice to be the last to speak – and pick the fruits of your temporary patience and discipline!