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Will you leave a legacy for nursing?

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Nurses can learn lessons from Nelson Mandela to become better leaders

On 5 December 2013 we saw the passing away of an iconic leader - Nelson Mandela. As tributes poured out, it’s impossible not to reflect on what he did and, more importantly, how and why he did it. How can we, as nurses, learn from Mr Mandela to become better leaders and leave a legacy for our profession?

Mr Mandela did not give up. He was resilient and courageous and resisted and fought against apartheid. He spent 27 years in prison, but used his experiences to become a stronger man rather than a bitter one. The manner in which he led is also noteworthy. According to Mr Mandela, he led from the front but did not leave his base behind. He also led from the back and let others believe they were in front. But most importantly, he played for the long run, always stating “things will be better in the long run” and doing everything he could to ensure so.

How to lead like Nelson Mandela

● Have a clear vision of what you want your working environment to be like
● Stand up for what you believe in
● Be bold and courageous
● Don’t shy away from doing difficult things
● Lead by example
● Do not allow your negative past experiences to dictate your future
● Be selfless

Mr Mandela boldly fought for what he believed in. He did not like what he saw and decided to change it. Although he was focused on his goal - ensuring South Africa became a nation where all its citizens had equal rights - he was also flexible, often changing tactics to achieve his vision. To him, quitting was leading too as knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make.

Mr Mandela did not let his past dictate his future. For me, probably one of Mr Mandela’s greatest achievements was the fact he let go of his past and did not show resentment to his oppressors. He did not seek revenge despite spending over a quarter of his life imprisoned for not having rights in his birth country.

Mr Mandela was a great role model and lived by example. He did difficult things and was selfless.

So how can nurses imitate his example? We all have our daily struggles. We sometimes do not like the culture of our organisations or the bureaucracy in the NHS. Do we make it our business to change what we don’t like? Are we willing to resist negative cultures and take a stand for what we truly believe in? Are we prepared to challenge the status quo to change things for good? Or are we just happy to sit and delegate our responsibility to be agents of change?

If you are feeling oppressed why not develop a vision of what you want your working environment to be like? Develop an action plan and be flexible about your delivery of it. Seek allies who believe in what you do. Collectively stand up for what you believe in. Take the difficult actions today that will produce massive results tomorrow. Be bold and resilient and you may be the next Mandela. Start leading by example and who knows what legacy you may leave for the profession.

Ruth Oshikanlu is a nurse, midwife and health visitor, as well as a coach and managing director of Goal Mind. She is a Queen’s Nurse

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Readers' comments (1)

  • tinkerbell

    Beautiful piece Ruth. Well done. My mum is in her 80's and often says the same 'I want to become better not bitter'.

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