Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David C. Turnley was present on February 11, 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released. Tension was high that day. What would happen upon his release after 27 years in South African prisons? Would riots ensue? Would he incite his followers to seek revenge after years of apartheid and his own imprisonment?
NBC news interviewed Turnley on December 7, 2013, just two days after Mandela’s death. He had spent decades documenting the life of Mandela and recalled what he witnessed upon Mandela’s release. It was a very different scene than what many had feared. Turnley said, “We have all experienced being with somebody when we feel like everything’s going to be OK. That’s how you felt when you were around Mandela.”
We follow leaders, not just because of their ideas or their mission, but because of how we feel when we are in their presence. The atmosphere they create around them is critical. Their moods are contagious.
Consider Mandela. The combination of his relaxed energy, his spirit of forgiveness, and his powerful, healing words, along with a genuine commitment to peaceful reconciliation, changed the mood of his entire nation. He provided a powerful example to other nations moving through difficult periods in their own history.
As human beings, we want to feel inspired. When entering new territory or operating outside of our comfort zones, we are reassured when we know that our leader has our back. And in the midst of uncertainty or chaos, we are relieved to be connected with someone who helps us feel calm and focused.
Great leaders help everyone around them feel better and inspire them to reach higher. No matter the circumstances.
William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were famous rivals in late 19th century England. A young woman who spent time with each of them once said, “When I dined with Mr. Gladstone, I felt as though he was the smartest person in all of England. But when I dined with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I was the smartest person in England.”
I remember my boss at the international consulting firm where I used to be a senior partner once giving me a great compliment. He said, “Don, I don’t really understand what it is that you do. I just know that wherever you go, people just seem to perform better.” At the time, I didn’t know how to really describe what I was doing either. I just knew that I believed in my people. I listened more than I talked. And I took great pleasure from our successes as a team.
Now, looking back, I know that I was also bringing a mood conducive to high performance: the mood of exuberance.
What mood are you bringing with you each day? What impact is that mood having on the people around you? Are you inspiring others to be exuberant?
How do people feel when they are with you?