A Stepmom Learns From Nelson Mandela

I am not a historian or politician. From a distant view, there appears to be a few lessons that we may be able to apply to our own lives. Here are a few lessons about leadership that may give us cause to consider.
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At the time of this writing, it is the day of Nelson Mandela's funeral. Nelson Mandela was the past president of South Africa and is credited with bringing the end of apartheid to that country. Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison. He entered prison at the age of 44 and was released when he was 71 years old. He fought tirelessly for freedom. He died a hero to his countrymen and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts to end apartheid.

I am not a historian or politician. From a distant view, there appears to be a few lessons that we may be able to apply to our own lives. Here are a few lessons about leadership that may give us cause to consider.

1. The Art of Silence

Mr. Mandela appeared to move from intense warrior to quiet peacemaker. No doubt that 27 years behind bars will change who you are and how you deal with the world. Like Dr. King and Gandhi, it almost feels as if less is more. The peaceful approach towards civil disobedience did not lessen their devotion or passion to their missions. It was another, perhaps, more effective way to accomplish their goals.

How do you behave when your family frustrates you? Isn't it difficult to refrain from screaming, shouting and repeating our messages over and over again? We are looking for an audience within our homes as these leaders looked for a worldwide audience. At the end of the day, there is very little difference. We want to be heard.

So the question remains. Would it be more impactful to walk the talk and say less? Could you find the strength to rely on peaceful disobedience? Say less while taking peaceful action towards meeting your goals. For example, "If the kids don't pick up their stuff, I'm going to put it all in the garage." When their stuff reappears, you say it again, rather than acting. Walk the talk.
The real challenge is whether or not stepmothers truly know what their mission is. Do you know what you are trying to accomplish? Really? Staying married? Raising responsible people? Are you clear? Once clear, you are half way to a more respectful home.

2. The Art of the Smile

President Mandela was often pictured smiling. Did you know that it has been scientifically proven that the act of smiling sends a message to the brain associated with happiness? The theory is that a cooler brain creates happier feelings than a warmer brain. This happier feeling is associated with the biochemical processes associated with this facial movement. [source: Goleman].
Even a fake smile will work. Smile more and you will feel better and I am willing to bet that people will follow you. It may be more effective than talking. After all, don't you like being around happy people?

3. The Art and Science of Focus

All great leaders are focused on their end game. For Mr. Mandela, it was the end of apartheid and freedom for all people. In my stepfamily, it was to raise responsible, independent people who gave back to the world. With that goal in mind, decisions were easier to make.

When I worked in corporate America, we had a saying in the office. It was, "That which gets the focus, gets done." So true. The company would set one to three goals and we all focused on surpassing those hurdles.

Yes, in a stepfamily, your means to an end may be different than the other family members. Have you had that meeting to compare your visions? Are you and your partner on the same page? If you stay true to your mission and stay focused, it will all work out in the end.

When you are having those feelings that you are imprisoned within the stepfamily walls, remember that we do have choices. We can change the way we react to others' behaviors. We can stay focused. We can look at how involved we are and take a step back. We can understand that our futures are still in our own hands and that peaceful disobedience may be an effective tool. We can smile. We can always remember what we want to teach our children and walk the talk.

Peace to you, Mr. Mandela. Thanks for the lessons.

"What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." -- Nelson Mandela

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