Leading a Team: The Mandela Method

None of us, acting alone, can achieve success
— Nelson Mandela 18/07/1918

Step 1 - Exchange, Discuss, Debate

Coaching the leader so that they can regulate debates effectively is very important and allows them to express themselves by valuing everyone's voice and controlling an objective and constructive discussion. Discussion is also the best way to share ideas with each other and become aware of counter-arguments while honing a flawless and convincing speech. In this way you can discover your teams passions and motivations.

Step 2 - Communication 

Talking about successes and failures is essential when forging a team, as well as airing everyone's doubts and apprehensions, communication strengthens the cohesion of the group.


Step 3 - Do not shy away from conflict

In a group of strangers who share the same idea, conflict is inevitable and often everyone has different approaches. According to the Mandela method, conflicts must be managed intelligently by the leader:

à Perception: it is essential to identify the arguments of each person and the points of tension.

à Reliance: refocus the debate on ideas and the best interest of the group and develop team cohesion around this interest through communication.

à Resilience: being able to recover from a situation that seems to be a dead end (a conflict in this case).

à Co-responsibility: the leader must be able to develop a sense of responsibility in order to maintain cohesion by being honest and objective.


Step 4 - Create Links

The leader must be able to connect and use his or her own world experience to build meaning within the group and identify opportunities that he or she can transform into concrete results. This requires a global perception of the environment and objectives, an objective and detailed analysis of the group's strengths and weaknesses and ideas and listening to the group's tensions.


Step 5- Develop depth of mind.

To be a good leader, you must be a good listener but also have plenty of resilience and be able to bounce back in any situation. It is necessary to maintain a sense of objectivity. To do this a leader requires great social qualities, combining a detached perspective but also a precise knowledge of the group.

Leadership and applying the Mandela Method with Alex Dobbyn - President, Enactus Exeter

Kealan Jones (Head of Finance, Exeter), Alex Dobbyn (President, Exeter), Kevin Ridley (VP for projects, Exeter).

Kealan Jones (Head of Finance, Exeter), Alex Dobbyn (President, Exeter), Kevin Ridley (VP for projects, Exeter).

C : How did you prepare your team for the nationals?

A : The National Expo creeps up on you. I learned this the hard way, so this year we have put a lot of work into preparation.  We’re proud of our achievements this year, so we needed enough time to prepare and write a presentation that does the team justice. To prepare the presentation team, we held auditions in January and asked candidates to present something they were passionate about. It was lovely to watch the energy and emotion that the presenters were able to channel in their speeches and from this we were able to select a diverse and complementary range of presenters.  We followed this with a presentation workshop and then weekly meetings. In the end you can’t avoid a few days of frantic script writing and editing, but presenting and sharing our script with our support network helped us maintain focus.

The second way that we have prepared goes back to a pledge I made at the beginning of the year: drag everyone to nationals, whatever the cost. The change in people’s outlook, focus and ambition that can be triggered by watching other teams present their projects is striking. I think that exposing the team to this is one of the most powerful actions we can take to train our team. We have been promoting the event since January and fundraising all year.  Over half the active team will be in the audience to cheer our presentation team on.


C : Do you find it hard to be a leader or do you think the team plays a lot on the quality of the leader?  

A : Strangely, the leadership role is quite vague. It could cover so many aspects of the society, so there is no measure of how hard you should be working. This can leave you feeling like you could always be doing better, which can be quite hard.  I think it’s important to use that to your advantage; whether something goes well, or not so well, there’s always something to improve. I try and let that motivate me, rather than let it get my head down. I also find it useful to try and remember the essence of what I’m doing - I should be empowering individuals to contribute towards achieving our team goals, not doing it all by myself. Having this goal maintains focus and helps me recognise what’s worth working hard at and what is less essential.

There are some difficult times, for example, before regionals when you have a script to write and a dissertation deadline and you really feel the burden. Fortunately, the truth is that once the hard work are done, you only remember that feeling of achievement.

In Enactus Exeter, I feel incredibly lucky. The teams are so energetic, passionate and fun that you get carried along with it and it rarely feels like hard work at all. So yes, the team does help, but really it’s a test of good leadership skills, I’m just lucky that mine don’t get tested as far as they could be.


C : How do you deal with conflict, stress and all negative emotions?  

A : Prevention is better than cure. The first step to manage conflict is to address your team culture. I think that encouraging an open attitude towards giving and, most importantly, receiving feedback, breeds two traits that can reduce conflict - honesty and objectivity. Inevitably conflict arises and it’s never simple to deal with, but i think one of the first steps should be to consider your own role - are you being objective, flexible and empathetic? This usually this involves asking the individuals involved a few questions and giving them time for their opinion to feel listened to and valued. Then I’m usually very upfront about my thoughts, while taking great care to show that I’m focusing on practical solutions rather than blame or personalities.

 I deal with stress and negative emotions in a similar way. Here are my top three tips:

  • Keep things in perspective - is it worth getting stressed/upset about this? Is this feeling temporary?

  • Plan leisure time - having something to look forward to motivates you and gives you a guilt-free break

  • If I’m really stressed and I don’t have time to deal with it in these other ways, for example before public speaking, I do simple breathing exercises. I once scoffed at the suggestion, but taking 30 seconds to lower your heart rate, and refocus can change a moment of stress into calm and clarity.


C : How many times have you participated in the nationals and what did you learn from this experience as a leader?

A : This will be my third time at the National Expo. The first time, we were so underprepared that we ran over time and got cut off. The next day I was the only one who stayed to watch the finalists present. I felt gutted about not finishing our presentation and disappointed that the rest of my team had missed the inspiring final presentations. The next year I was determined not to let that happen again. I lead the presentation team and I remember how tense I was as they presented. It went well, and I learned a valuable lesson in being able to rely on other people. This year we’re significantly more prepared and this has given an opportunity for leaders to emerge within the presentation team and lift everyone up. It was wonderful to watch them at regionals and I’m all the more excited for nationals.


C : Did the leadership position come naturally to you or did you learn that over time?

I was surprised to be offered the project leader role in Biosmart (perhaps other people had turned it down before me). I was fairly indifferent about taking it on, but after I spent time mulling over the business model and our mission I felt an immense urge to own what I was doing. I put my all into it and made endless mistakes, which was ideal in hindsight. I learned a lot that year and was committed to continuing for another year. However, while trying to seek support i recognised systemic issues with the society that were holding back all the projects. I had a choice between ignoring it and putting all my effort into Biosmart, or trying to improve the bigger picture and hopefully achieve benefits for Biosmart. Our programme manager, Callum, played a considerable role in guiding me towards the latter.  The following year, alongside a friend from my project, we took the roles of President and Vice President. We stripped the society back to the important bits; a couple of projects with a strong support network. That year gave me insight into the opportunities that lay ahead of us. By the time of the AGM last year, I couldn’t wait to take on the privilege of running the society. Once, I was bitter that i couldn’t push my project to its full potential, but I’m grateful now that I followed the path that i have and I reckon Biosmart has done even better than it would have if I stayed.


C : Just a few days before the nationals, what are you focusing on as a priority for your leadership role? Stress management? Impeccable presentation? What are the last details you're focusing on?

A : There is still a bit of refining left to do for the presentation and I should probably do a lot more work on the annual report. Other than that it’s all about motivation. It’s been a long run up until this point, and I would like everyone to be feeling their best on the 8th and not crash before then. So if you’re reading this, team, remember all the work you’ve put in, and don’t forget to take breaks! In the meantime it’s my last bit of proper Enactusing so I’ll be throwing myself in to everything I can and I’m looking forward to a huge celebration, whatever the outcome of nationals.

Credit: Chloé Pitrois - Enactus Exeter



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