Stepping Out Gracefully; Without Stepping In It – How about Mandela?


Stepping out gracefully, without stepping in was one of the themes at the Aspen gathering this year. I remember sitting in the room and taking it all in. I was transported to my own life and struggles. Personally, I worry about the things I have managed to start and how they will go on, when I am no longer useful. Will my children be interested? Do I have the right to expect them to continue my life? At work, how do I find and train the right people to see and buy into the vision well enough to run with it? At what point do I delegate enough to make this step effective? And most importantly, at what point do I just straight step out, especially when I become my own draw back maybe…

Mentorship is something I really believe in, and in a recent interview I talked about the needed space where the older entrepreneur begins to mentor the younger and eventually steps aside. It was therefore an important development for me when I was recently appointed an MIT, Legatum Catalyst fellow and given the opportunity to share my experience with the amazing group of hopeful entrepreneurs at the center.

Fareed Zakaria made an interesting point about Mandela this week; ‘ MANDELA’S FINAL ACT OF GREATNESS WAS LEAVING OFFICE.’ – he calls him the George Washington of South Africa and talks about the importance of not turning his time at the helm into a personality cult or dynasty. This especially takes a new meaning when you relate it to our inability as Africans to find leadership that espouses this principle!

Let me share with you some of the principles that came out of our sharing at Aspen…
It is important to “LEAVE WHILE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS ARE IN BLOOM”. This principle underscores the importance of leaving when you are still on top. Alex Ferguson, leaving Manchester United when he had just won English premiere league, underscores this principle. Another sports personality who brought this out recently was Sachin Tendulkar of Cricket fame. This principle is easier said than done off course, and seems to contradict itself almost. How do you leave at the head of your success or whiles you are still on top? But thinking about the alternative might be helpful. Leaving when you are seemingly down is a copout and usually doesn’t go down well. How can you tell your story or get anyone to want to maintain or follow up on what you are leaving behind? It works bad for your own self-confidence and legacy; if you actually leave behind any. If you ask me therefore, the worst time to step down is when things are going bad! Off course, I am leaving out the times when it is the only thing to do… maybe stepping back to re-strategize is worth considering at those times, but I am a fighter, not a quitter; but at the same time, it is key to know when to quit. I also find that at the times that I leave when I am at the top is the time that other doors open up more easily.

‘SHOWING UP!’ it is important to be PRESENT when you LEAVE! Leave properly and tie the ends together. Do not run away in the dark and leave others holding up your mess. Stay and do the work. The work needed to allow things to go on when you are gone. Do not wish for things to go south when you leave to prove how vital you were, as that proves just the opposite! It is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, especially if the environment is antagonistic or unhealthy to your wellbeing. Plan properly for when you step out and begin to work towards it, giving yourself enough time to clean up. Some of the most difficult times I have had in my business is when people very insensitively leave because they are so focused on the future maybe, or just not motivated enough to show up at the end. Whether in your personal or professional life, it is always unfortunate, and comes back always to haunt you, in my experience!

But most importantly, appreciating the “trough,” is key. In the ‘Trough’, by Judy Brown, she talks about the ‘LOW SPOT, WHERE HORIZON DISAPPEARS AND ONLY SKY AND WATER ARE OUR COMPANY.’ ‘ There we lose our way unless we rest, knowing the wave will bring us to its crest again’. Let’s notice the shape of things, until we regain our senses of where we need to swim. I have been here so many times; I lost count. I imagine in prison, Mandela must have felt that he was in the trough. Martin Luther king in prison; even Jesus maybe? when he went up the mountain? It is important to recognize that our most important self, value and work, usually comes out when we are at that place where perhaps, we do not see the way forward clearly. Have faith in you and sit; without rushing to find land maybe… it is my believe that not enough people spend time in this place…


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