Sunday, 23 October 2005

what Mandela taught me

originally an extract from (Filed: 08/09/2005) Link no longer available

Bryan Sanderson, chairman of Standard Chartered and Bupa
There are lots of lessons on people: most of all that they're the most important part of any organisation.

But I think a key lesson is to make sure that the higher up you get up in an organisation, the more you should listen; because the way technology is changing today, and the application of that technology, is absolutely fundamental to the success or failure of a company.

It's difficult to be my age and be as abreast of all this as someone who has just graduated from university with all the fresh ideas that he or she has just been taught - and also as involved with young people in a way that you're not when you get older and further on in life.
So be very careful to listen: not just to your peers around you or to those below you, but right down. You're probably going to learn a lot from talking to people in their late 20s.

This was brought home to me by - if I can drop a name - Nelson Mandela.
I'm a graduate of the London School of Economics and I was Deputy Chairman of the Governors there until recently. He had a granddaughter there, so he came two or three times and I hosted a dinner for him once.

We had a public session before the dinner, and I asked him in the course of that session what advice he would give me to give to my children, as I had two children in their early 20s at the time.
He thought a bit - and then looked at me and said: "Well, what makes you think you should be giving them advice?"

He added: "You'd be far better off listening to them and asking them for advice, and then perhaps having a discussion about it.
"You should not assume that because of age you have the right to advise them. The way the world is these days they've probably got more to tell you than the other way around."
I thought that was very sound advice.

I've paid attention to it since, and I've learnt a lot by mixing with young people. I do a lot of mentoring now, for example, and while I'm supposed to be mentoring them, quite often the feedback I get is of as much value to me as what I say to them.

It comes back to a point that arises over and over again in all sorts of contexts: within a company, these days you need people who are willing to learn, and that is a prime attribute for any top management function.
That means people who listen, and who take on board lessons and have enough humility - although they've got big senior jobs and are very powerful - to recognise that life's about lifelong learning.