September 18, 2015

I am posting a poignant analysis addressed to me by a P&G colleague of mine, Lindsay Schmauss, on how the lessons and values of Nelson Mandela's life offer counsel for us and our Nation on how to negotiate with and relate to Russia and President Putin. Indeed, these lessons apply broadly to how we interact with anyone. I found myself identifying so closely with Lindsay's views I decided to post her analysis in its entirety and without further comment.

She relates her thoughts through the lens of the leadership attributes identified by journalist, Richard Stengel, who worked closely what Nelson Mandela for many years.


Richard Stengel recognizes as one of Nelson Mandela’s greatest
strengths, his sense for “when and how to transition between his roles as
warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman”.  In approaching Putin, the West needs
to be clear on the appropriate role that is called for right now.  Stengel goes
on to enumerate 8 associated “Lessons of Leadership” that build out an
understanding of how (and why) NM transitioned between these roles, and to what
effect.  I think each and every lesson is relevant at this time.

No. 1:
Courage is not the absence of fear – it’s inspiring others to move beyond it
have already shared my perspective that the apparent “fear” of Putin is
extremely counterproductive.  Too much is being said by too many significant
leaders and influencers about the threat that Russia and Putin poses to the
West.  Much is based on assumption and hearsay, and the tone is too volatile and
defensive.  The dialogue about Russia needs to calm down.  We need cool heads
that articulate the principle, the goal, and focus the discourse forward on
this, rather than harping back to old “Cold War” themes.  This will reverse the
current effect of spreading fear and distrust among “the people” that in turn
fuels calls for rash intervention.  I sense that Americans can be a bit too
quick to reach for the gun when they feel threatened.  That goes for the actions
of private individuals, cops as well as the military!  We need calm voices that
give courage to approach problems in a rational way.

No. 2: Lead from the
front – but don’t leave your base behind
I consider Obama an extremely wise and
enlightened leader, but often he goes out on a limb, requiring tremendous effort
to shore up support for his efforts (health care, Iran nuclear deal…), usually
after the fact.  This is why he makes no headway on the gun control issue.  It’s
also why there are continual issues with members of his own administration
speaking out on issues from points of view directly contradicting the aligned
position.  In approaching Russia, enough needs to be done in advance on the
“homefront” to secure support, to hold a coherent position together.  A clear
vision of what is to be achieved would be a good place to start.

Stengel also
recalls NM’s reflection that “an issue was not a question of principle; it was a
question of tactics”.  I like this a lot!  It fits together with the comment of
Cyril Ramaphosa that NM was “a historical man – he was thinking way ahead of
us”.  NM “always played for the long run” – “Things will be better in the long
run,” he liked to say.  So how does this relate to Russia and Putin?  Recently,
Western diplomacy has been thrown back to the “tit for tat” short game of the
Cold War.  We need to step back and take a much longer term view.  We need to
define The Principle.  For NM his “unwavering principle” was to overthrow
apartheid.  What is the principle with Russia?  Is it peace and cooperation?  Is
it alliance?  With Iran it was very specific nuclear disarmament requirements
and that absolutely focused the discussion, also by clearly defining where there
would be the space to negotiate and compromise, the space for “tactics”. 
Similarly, once we know the real objective of engaging Moscow – the “prize” – we
also by default define the “less important” areas where we might compromise. 
The areas that today we may consider “matters of principle”, but at the
negotiation table, can become tactics.

No. 3: Lead from the back – and let
others believe they are in front
The principle learnt from herding cattle ☺ “It
is wise,” NM said “to persuade people to do things and make them think it was
their own idea.”  I think this is a relevant meditation both in thinking about
how to enroll upfront support in America as well as approach Russia.  Whether
one would agree or not, Russia sees itself as the equal of America.  There is
Putin’s famous “Munich speech” – in many ways, the “Manifesto” of his subsequent
political framework and belief – where he described American world domination
and declared that if no other nation or alliance would stand up to counter
balance this, Russia would.  With all respect, personally I sense that America
has a tendency to arrogance.  When I hear the “average American” speaking about
their country, admirable national pride often gets borderline offensive with the
implication of American superiority.  Likewise the American tendency to pile on
to every issue with a very loud (and often bellicose) point of view, often
characterized here in Europe as “America policing the world” (which considering
American incarceration rates vs. other countries, comes across as extremely
biased to punitive action and not something Europeans and many others see as a
good thing!).  America needs to approach Russia with a dose of humility and
respect for the pride of the Russian people too.  Putin will not stand for being
seen as the pawn of the West.  He will not bend to pressure.  He must be
approached on a very level playing field.

No. 4: Know your enemy – and learn
his favorite sport
The fact that NM not only studied Afrikaans language,
history and culture, but was seen to embrace it, is something I find marvelous. 
It is also a brilliant exhibit of “tactics”.  You and I have mused before on the
value of understanding Russia, Russian people etc.  There is this, and then
there is another angle that builds on the previous point: as much as we need to
get clear on our objective in engaging Putin, we also need to spend quality
timing thinking about where he is coming from and what he wants.  Evidently he
wants to be reassured of Global equilibrium (is that not what we want too?). 
Russian strengths are different to America’s, as are Russian aspirations – we
need to deeply understand this and let this direct the choices we make in
negotiation to enable the “win-win”.

Stengel also captures that NM “realized
that even the worst and crudest could be negotiated with”.  This is important
too.  We must see past our judgement of “the other” and find a way to connect. 
This goes for Assad to, by the way.  With the way things have evolved in Syria,
a resolution without Assad seems unlikely, but in the interest of peace, we can
even negotiate with a butcher.

No. 5: Keep your friends close – and your
rivals even closer
This one is self-explanatory! “Mandela believed that
embracing his rivals was a way of controlling them: they were more dangerous on
their own than within his circle of influence.”  Enough said: THIS is why we
need to engage Putin.  Never mind collaboration on common issues etc. etc., the
key factor is that either he is with us or against us.  Sanctions won’t change
that – it will only make matters worse.

No. 6: Appearances matter – and
remember to smile
It’s a small and obvious point, but it does matter.  How this
all is presented in the media is crucial.  What is the “media strategy” and how
do we influence it into being?  I sense that there is a very incendiary element
in American journalism that needs if not toning down, then “integrating” in the
strategy to work for, not against, peace.

No. 7: Nothing is black or
CRUCIAL POINT!  NM “suggested that Americans tend to see things in black
and white and he would upbraid me for my lack of nuance”.  “Life is never
either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing
factors”…”Mandela [was] comfortable with contradiction”.  Yes, we condemned what
we saw as Russia invading Ukraine.  Yes, we condemned Assad and committed to
help kick him out of power.  But things moved on, became even more complex (and
they certainly were not as simple as we might have painted them at the
beginning).  Take a longer view, take ego out of the equation, and remember the
next point:

No. 8: Quitting is leading too
Being willing to acknowledge when
one is wrong or out-voted, being open to change one’s mind, both are absolutely
crucial to succeed in negotiation and leadership.  I don’t think it is in the
schema of Putin – he would probably see this as weakness, or maybe not – maybe
his innate pragmatism would chalk it up as tactics, but regardless of that, if
the West is going to reach out, we need to be willing to concede some

So those are my reflections. Doubtless you are well aware of them all
as the document originated with you, but I thought I would capture my
reflections anyway because the relevance of these lessons right now was just too
great to not comment on it.

1 comment:

  1. John, this is great. Have you or Lindsay considered posting this (or similar pieces) on Medium?