Bob Miano's Blog

An Executive journal

Tenacity to Transform

This article appears as the third part of a blog series on transformational leadership, published ahead of the March 2014 Harvey Nash Leadership Lecture with Rudy Giuliani.

My first two blog posts explored how leaders can be influenced early in their career by other transformative figures. In this installment I take a longer-term view to determine what traits may develop during the course of a career that contribute to making an effective leader into a truly transformational leader.

On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg and the world lost one of its most inspiring, successful, and enduring, transformational leaders. In the weeks that have followed his passing, millions of words have been written about the impact Mandela achieved, both as a figurehead of the anti-Apartheid movement and his political leadership as South Africa's first democratically elected President.

Some leaders are born into exceptional families, for others, poverty will drive them to change their life and the lives of those around them. There are many leaders whose ambition will shift as they experience early setbacks, but a small minority retain their energy over the course of their career, constantly seeking to transform the environment around them with an unrelenting vision. It is their tenacity that makes them truly transformational leaders.

Transformation is rarely an overnight success. As I was reading the biography of Nelson Mandela it struck me that less than 100 words were dedicated to his role as President of South Africa, a role that one would imagine provided him with the most direct power to affect transformation. I realized that it was the experiences Mandela learned from during the course of his life, rather than the positions of authority he later found himself in, that gave him the attributes to be a truly transformational leader.

Mandela's character was established by events in his youth, particularly the death of his father when he was only 12 years old. He was influenced by injustice he experienced early in his career. From his biography we know that Mandela began his studies at the University College of Fort Hare but did not complete his degree as he was expelled for joining in a student protest. After running away to Johannesburg he began studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. By his own admission he was a poor student and he left university again in 1952 without graduating. He started studying for a third time through the University of London after his imprisonment in 1962 but also did not complete that degree.

Rather than deter him, these early setbacks energized Mandela. He joined the African National Congress and helped to form the ANC Youth League.

On October 9, 1963 Nelson Mandela joined 10 others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. While facing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his famous 'Speech from the Dock' on April 20, 1964 became immortalized:

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

His determination and tenacity drove him on during his campaign of civil disobedience.

On June 11, 1964 Mandela and seven others were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. While on Robben Island, Mandela's mother and his eldest son died. He was not allowed to attend their funerals.

Throughout his imprisonment he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release, believing instead that his conviction and imprisonment were unjust, and that his cause was true. He was finally released on February 11, 1990.

Leaders who are intent on pursuing transformational change often establish a vision of what they want to achieve, almost all will be challenged and experience failure, only a few will have the tenacity to stay true to their vision during testing times.

Our speaker on March 4, 2014 at the Harvey Nash Leadership Lecture is Rudy Giuliani. His career defining moment came on September 11, 2001 when, as Mayor of New York, he narrowly missed being crushed when the World Trade Center towers fell while he was personally responding to the attack. His determination and tenacity to lead the city during those testing times were formed during his early life and throughout a distinguished career of public service.

Giuliani was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. As the grandson of Italian immigrants, he was taught the value of a strong work ethic and a deep respect for America's ideal of equal opportunity. As U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Giuliani forged a tough reputation for prosecuting drug dealers, organized crime, and corruption in government.

In 1993, Giuliani was elected Mayor of New York City. Campaigning on the slogan "One City, One Standard," he focused on reducing crime, reforming welfare, and improving the quality of life for residents. In 1997, he was re-elected with 57% of the vote in a city in which Democrats outnumbered Republicans five to one. Under Giuliani's leadership, overall crime was cut by 56%, murder was cut by 66%, and New York City--once considered the crime capital of the country--became the safest large city in America according to the FBI. Rudy literally transformed a city.

In 2008, Mayor Giuliani ran for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. During his campaign, he galvanized the national debate on such critical issues as national security, education, energy independence, healthcare, and the economy.

Mandela and Giuliani were exceptional leaders, they possessed different styles, worked in different environments, during different times. However, both had deep reserves of tenacity. Both leaders placed public duty at the heart of their vision. Both leaders transformed their environment in their own way.

There were many times when they could have given up. Many times when almost every other person would have given up. But their determined character traits drove them onwards.

Years of overcoming obstacles, learning from failures and building on successes, enabled both Mandela and Giuliani to be recognized around the world as transformational leaders.

The 2014 Harvey Nash Leadership Lecture with Rudy Giuliani, at The Plaza Hotel, New York on March 4, 2014, is an invitation only event. If you are interested in learning more, please email your details to Huong Thai, huong.thai@harveynashusa.com