Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

Do you see the good or the bad in your team?

by Darryl Stewart, Head of the Herd

Nelson Mandela liberated a country from race-based inequality.  Inequality maintained by trampling on basic human rights and by violence.  Mandela was jailed for twenty-seven years by the apartheid South African government.  During his time in jail Mandela was treated as less than human and often subject to brutality.

Statue of Nelson Mandela
Photo by Duncan on Flickr

You would think that living under apartheid and subsequently being brutalized in prison by the regime, Mandela would emerge full of vengeance and bitterness.  Many of his peers did.  Not Mandela.  It turns out Mandela has a unique gift for seeing the good in others.    It is said that Mandela can see the good in just about anyone.  He believes, according to his biographer Richard Stengel, that seeing the good in other people improves the chances that they will reveal their better selves.  In fact he won over many of his jailers by looking past their brutal treatment of black prisoners, looking for their good qualities and empathizing with their personal situations.  This afforded him and his cell mates much better treatment than they would otherwise have had and allowed him to grow as a leader under the most improbable circumstances.

If Mandela were to react to brutality with the usual response of treating his captors as the enemy, instead of getting to know each one as a person, he would never have emerged from prison the man he did.  He and his comrades would also have suffered much more abuse than they did.

This ability to see the good in others is an important ability to being a great manager.  Only by starting with the assumption that each of your team members is fundamentally good and worthy of your attention can you set yourself up to succeed as their manager.  If you see them all as “not willing to work hard”, as “irresponsible”, as “lazy” or any of the many things I hear some managers openly saying about their staff, you will get exactly these things from most.  If, on the other hand, you see them as worthy of your attention, worthy of a second chance, worthy of getting to know better, worthy of customizing your approach to, you will succeed with many.

When you choose to first see the good in others and start from there, you will sometimes be taken advantage of.  Great managers don’t worry too much about that.  They focus on bringing out the good they see in each person.