THE BLOG
12/11/2013 11:03 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Nelson Mandela: Reflections on Thought Leadership

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."
--Helen Keller

"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world."
-- Nelson Mandela

Today the world is remembering "the last great liberator of the twentieth century." That's what President Obama called Nelson Mandela at his memorial service yesterday. "He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well." The UN General Assembly declared yesterday, December 10, Human Rights Day. How apropos! There is much to be learned from Mandela's story.

SunnyChanel shares lessons parents can teach their children. Med Kharbach, diligent and distinguished educational technology blogger and thought leader for teachers/therapists/educators/students everywhere, compiled a list of digital resources to use to help children learn about Nelson Mandela and his legacy.

Mandela singlehandedly taught present/future generations of children/adults what it means to be a self-actualized human being, an optimistic thinker with self awareness of the essence of life and worth, and someone who swam against the tide and practiced what so many just preach. Stand up for what you believe in. Make the world better for those around you. Use humor to gently disarm and inject wisdom, truth, and pathos into your opponents' rhetoric; recalibrating their Theory of Mind (outlook).

Mandela's activism planted the seeds for what is now known as social entrepreneurship. This movement is growing rapidly because people are increasingly hungry to reclaim their humanity and bring out the best in themselves and others. It begins with an idea that gains momentum, spurs key "chess players" to make a move, and subsequently change the face of history.

It's time to foster more human rights activism, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and empathy -- all of which need to be interwoven and embedded into one's thought leadership; one of the most meaningful legacies a person can leave behind. Thought leadership is not only a digital marketing tactic and CEO's strategy to provide a bird's-eye view into company culture. It is not only a way for writers/authors to get on a soapbox, to stand out and showcase their genius (or lack thereof) but, when done right, thought leadership can enhance one's balancing of humanity vs. technology, nourish one's cerebral thought processes with one's emotional attunement, and propel a person's career trajectory. This is especially true of entrepreneurship today.

An entrepreneur has real impact when displaying both architectural prowess (planning) and eloquent artistry (execution and storytelling), sensitivity, and grace. All are needed to propel one's balance of humanity with technology and intellectual honesty with emotional attunement. Both are needed for successful entrepreneurs to solve real problems, and incidentally profit from creative disruptive innovation.

The greatest leaders first learned about their own potential by being moved by the Story of others and seeing patterns in that "voice," helping them find their own. That is the essence of Theory of Mind and Emotional Attunement, two neurocognitive processes which facilitate collaboration and creativity. These are attributes female entrepreneurs have in spades, and need to remember are significant assets that can spur change.

Fostering change; economic, social, educational, and technological, is as much an internal thought process and emotive experience as it is an external marketing campaign. It begins with being influenced by virtual mentorship, and using those lessons to connect the dots and plant seeds for your own entrepreneurial trajectory.

Real mentorship is crucial and needed, but virtual mentorship i.e. thought leadership forums (books, stories, seminars, blogs, social media marketing campaigns done with emotion, depth, and humor) is invaluable. It give the competitive, solitary, emotionally fragmented and sometimes grueling nature of entrepreneurship its wings to be free, and be more in touch with humanity. 

I am reminded of Tennyson's famous poem, "Crossing the Bar." I'm also reminded of the recent train derailment in my neck of the woods and the people who died, leaving behind their own legacy for their inner circle to share. There's a recent, insightful article by Kimberly Weisul on why entrepreneurs need to be more like pilots and less like engineers. There's a free iPad app I have used and recommended for projects involving team collaboration, Idea Flight.

It brings to mind how one sees oneself vs. the way others see him/her. You can either be a passenger or a pilot in life; in public or private, in childhood or adulthood, and during both good times and bad, peaceful times and times of turmoil. Integrity, a life of purpose, and orchestrating change is a choice. As one of my favorite social media thought leader and virtual mentors, Brian Solis writes, "Change happens to you and because of you."

Nelson Mandela orchestrated the end of apartheid in South Africa and changed the world. He was a pilot in the truest sense of the word; for people in his country, but also for people worldwide. He exemplifies the concept of global impact and the prototype of thought leader and social entrepreneur. We are all left with his virtual mentorship and legacy to guide us, his voice added to the many "inner voices" in our heads, herding us on our own journey towards more self-actualization as human beings and entrepreneurs. We just need to heed our own voice, and create our own takeaways from the teachable moments all around us....

I wish you all continued growth in your own diverse journeys towards the pursuit of balancing humanity and technology in today's startup culture. I wish you all good fortune in finding both virtual mentors and real mentors to bring out the best in you, and help you find ways to use your Story to help others and orchestrate meaningful change. The world needs you. The Entrepreneur Revolution needs you. It's time.