Monday, July 18, 2011

But how would Gandhi handle the sales staff?

Nelson Mandela turned 93 today. One of the most important figures of the 20th Century continues to inspire a decade in to the 21st, though he long ago gave up his official power in South Africa.

Like so many of her fellow South Africans, Louise reveres Mandela. She vividly remembers his release and fears the day when the country loses the man who symbolized and led one of the world's greatest human rights struggles.

Pick up a copy of his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom for all of the stunning details of his life. He's of course known for his 27 years in prison, but there was so much before the incarceration and so much he did after his release.

Perhaps the most important thing he ever did came after he left prison, when he played the key role in preventing a civil war in South Africa after apartheid died and white rule ended while black leadership began.

But forget saving a country. Perhaps Mandela's most important achievement was inspiring a new generation of IT people.

Check out this three-year-old blog entry.

Nelson Mandela avoided a civil war. IT Managers can learn a lot from how he did this. So what's a CIO or tech manager to do when they get plopped down in the middle of a battlefield?

If you saw Invictus - and you're an IT manager (I'm going with the lower-case on managers, they have big enough egos as it is) - you'll know the answer involves rugby. So, anonymous IT manager stuck in a cubicle or, if you're lucky, an office, take heed of Mandela's strategies. Implement them the next time some co-worker or underling begins to annoy you.

"It was Mandela who said "You don't address their brains, you address their hearts." IT managers can learn a great deal from all of this. When placed in a situation where there are multiple warring sides, a good manager needs to move quickly to diffuse the situation."

Perhaps if Mandela ever releases another book in his final years, he'll reveal how he made it through the inhumane conditions at Robben Island by wondering what an IT manager would do. Those lessons learned would have led him to being bored, dismissive, arrogant or incredulous. He would have shook his head in pity at someone who failed to do the most basic of tasks. He would have cracked bad jokes and probably been unsocial.

The blog - with the awkward, and somewhat unsubtle headline W.W.N.M.D? What Would Nelson Mandela Do? - is at least a temporary break from tough-talking businesspeople who quote Sun Tzu's The Art of War (or does that only happen in movies?). You wouldn't find many world leaders who would serve as a better example for tech geeks and the employees who frustrate them. No one wants to work under an IT manager who sports a yellow bracelet that wonders what Gaddafi would do.

Mandela is one of the most remarkable people of the last 100 years and one of the most important. He's inspired millions, in dozens of countries. No one should ever take him for granted, and his birthday is a perfect time to appreciate him. And, of course, the next time your work computer freezes up and Bill from the IT department gets into an argument with Joe about the cause, but finally relents when their manager intervenes and reminds them that everyone's on the same team and working toward the same goal, you might want to say thanks to Mandela. Yeah, he saved a country. But he might have also saved your desktop files.

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