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Lessons of Wisdom: What A Conversation with President de Klerk Taught Me

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with former President F.W. de Klerk, the former President of South Africa.

Two decades ago, he, along with Nelson Mandela, won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending apartheid in South Africa. In our conversation, he had imparted two lessons of wisdom that still ring true to me today, many days later, and I’m sure it will remain for many days more.

Here’s what a conversation with former President F.W. de Klerk taught me.

First, he taught me how to have courage to step away from the common path.

At the time of his leadership, his party expected him to carry on with things as usual. Not only did he refuse to do so, but he chose new and controversial allies in his quest for change.

We are all guilty of that adage doing the same things over and over again and hoping for different results. It is hard to change and we often have to tread into deep water. And when we do, sometimes the bottom and safe footing is gone and we need to craft a new space.

At Claremont Lincoln, we hope to teach the mindset and skills to take these initial steps of crafting a new space and stepping away from the common path.

The first step? Knowing what is important to you and the conviction to pursue it vigorously.

Having the skills to articulate that vision and draw out other voices to refine your approach is step two.

Pursue and articulate your vision & draw other voices to refine your approach. Click To Tweet

We cannot, and as President de Klerk could not, allow society to keep engaging in the same old way.

Unless we change our interaction, we will indeed continue to walk down the path of disrespect and violence.

The second lesson President de Klerk taught me was in his response to my question about the most important issue facing the world today.

His answer was: “The world’s ability to manage diversity.”

What an interesting choice, I thought. There seem to be so many threats to our world.Why that one?

And yet, as I reflected, I realized that most of the world’s threats are human-caused and based in an unwillingness to come together for common cause.

Gone are the days of isolation. The world has evolved into a human stream of movement for travel, for business, for opportunity. We truly need to become global citizens and care for each other and our environment. If we do this, there will be much less to fight about.

Of course, there is infinite wisdom to be gleaned from a leader that has led a nation’s people, an entire country, and, arguably, the whole world into a new, forward-thinking era.

But ultimately, our conversation boiled down simply to this singular takeaway:

We need to look more toward our common interests and less at our differences, and we need to move into the space of community.

We need to look less at our differences and move into the space of community. Click To Tweet
CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

Dr. Eileen Aranda is President of Claremont Lincoln University. Dr. Aranda spent many years as a management consultant focused on facilitation of the strategic management process, development and implementation of organization change efforts, assessment and mediation of internal organization problems and management team development. She holds an MBA and Ph.D. with an emphasis in strategic management and organizational development from University of Washington and is co-author of Teams: Structure, Process, Culture, and Politics (Prentice Hall, 1998).

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Claremont Lincoln University

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CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

CLU President Dr. Eileen Aranda

Dr. Eileen Aranda is President of Claremont Lincoln University. Dr. Aranda spent many years as a management consultant focused on facilitation of the strategic management process, development and implementation of organization change efforts, assessment and mediation of internal organization problems and management team development. She holds an MBA and Ph.D. with an emphasis in strategic management and organizational development from University of Washington and is co-author of Teams: Structure, Process, Culture, and Politics (Prentice Hall, 1998).

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