Leaders may become Nelson Mandela-like or Bernie Madoff-like. Which is the style of your leader?
These are two examples of the vast spectrum of individuals who shaped the world we live in. While Mandela is remembered as a leader who fought for justice and equality, Madoff will always be associated with the hurt and loss he caused to so many people. Mandela's impact on the world was positive and uplifting, while Madoff's actions were unethical and illegal.
What factors drove these two individuals to leave stark legacies that couldn't be more contrasting? Did they inherit the legacy from their family or was it the environment and people they grew up with?
Nelson Mandela grew up in poverty. His father died when he was a young boy and his father was the principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people. Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ valour during the wars of resistance, Nelson dreamed of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people. When he went to Johannesburg he encountered apartheid, which means 'apartness'.
In contrast, Bernie Madoff was born in a middle-class Jewish neighbourhood in Queens, New York. His parents, Sylvia (nee Muntner) and Ralph, immigrants from eastern Europe, worked in stockbroking. Delving a little deeper, you will find that Bernie’s mother, Sylvia Madoff was targeted by securities watchdogs in 1963 for failing to file documents for the brokerage she ran and Madoff’s father, Ralph had tax liens of more than $13,000 for unpaid federal taxes owed on their Queens home.
Bernie saved a few thousand dollars from working as a lifeguard and installing sprinklers, before setting out to conquer Wall Street. The director of the new documentary Berlinger says: “At the end of the day, he’s a financial serial killer, and the reason I say that is serial killers don’t have empathy. There’s no way you can look a widow in the eye and assure them that their life savings will be fine, give me your funds, I’ll take care of you, and then do that to people. He’s somebody who lacks empathy; therefore, can’t be remorseful.”
Our leadership and legacy are shaped by our past and fine-tuned by the place and the people around us. What do you want to carry on from the past and what environment and people do you want to shape your leadership and legacy?
Learn more in episode #114 and #115 of the Thriving minds podcast.
The difference between Nelson Mandela and Bernie Madoff serves as a reminder of the impact that individuals can have on the world and the importance of becoming aware of the impact we have and to not continue as a passenger but learn about how to train the brain to drive the train.