Category Archives: leadership

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 16

The sixteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

“Keep your friends close – and your rivals even closer”-Nelson Mandela.
Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992 (
Nelson Mandela is a leader who charmed even enemies by his attitude. He invited people whom he did not trust for dinner, called them to consult and associated with them by flattering and giving them gifts. Even people whom the public thought were against Mandela became good friends with him. Mandela would pick up the phone and call them on their birthdays. He would go to family funerals. Mandela saw these as opportunities. Mandela even took a step further and included his jailers among friends and put leaders who had kept him in prison in his first Cabinet. 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. He cherished loyalty, but he was never obsessed by it. He used to say, ‘people act in their own interest.’ It was simply a fact of human nature, not a flaw or defect. The flip side of being an optimist – and he is one – is trusting people too much.
Mandela teaches us that enemies could be more dangerous when they are not pacified. Most enemies around us are people with whom we do not agree with. These people may also have personal grudges and animosities, which we might not know unless we take the effort to associate with them. If we do not associate with our enemies and understand their views, they might become aggressive one day. In the end it is us who have to suffer. Mandela considered associating with enemies as opportunities to know what people think of him. He then changed his ways of approach. Sometimes an enemy might tell you the aspects in life that you need to develop much better than a friend. We should make efforts to know our enemies for two main reasons. One being able to predict what problems they might cause; and the other is that the enemies do help develop our weaknesses. But the mistake Mandela made was that he trusted the enemies too much. This resulted in the feeling of being betrayed when the South African President F.W. de Klerk attacked Mandela in public.
We should associate with the enemies but keep track of their movements. They should feel that they are given the freedom but we should always be observant of their acts and movements. A good leader has to have the capability of associating with the followers as well as with the enemies. But the two approaches should be different. It is through experience that one knows how to associate with the two different groups in such a way that even the enemies do not feel that they are treated as enemies. 

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 15

The fifteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

In this article, we would be looking at another important lesson from Nelson Mandela. (Refer installment 4 and installment 14 for more)
Nelson Mandela holds up his clenched fist in triumph the day after his release from prison in 1990 after 27 years at the age of 72. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

“Nothing is black or white”-Nelson Mandela
Life is never either/or. Decisions we make are always complex, and there are competing factors. To look for simple explanations is the bias of the human brain, but it doesn’t correspond to reality. Nothing is as straightforward as it appears. In our lives, we find many situations that require decisions. Be it a simple yes/no or a complex answer, we still have decisions to make. When we attempt to find the answer, how do we approach? Do we analyze the situation and approach in a pragmatic manner or do we approach in a solely idealistic manner? It should be noted that though Mandela was an idealist, he was a pragmatic idealist. We find that each and every problem has many roots. While Mandela was indisputably and clearly against the apartheid, the causes of the apartheid were complex. They were historical, sociological and psychological. Nelson’s calculation was always: what is the end I seek, and what is the most practical way to get there?
The civil conflict of Sri Lanka has many causes. Most of us know only a few and as a result we do not have a clear understanding of the issue. As citizens of Sri Lanka, we should gather information and clarify our doubts. It means being unbiased and obtaining knowledge on the conflict. This is not easy. People are usually driven by emotions. The country needs leaders who can control their emotions and approach issues in an intellectual manner. We need to sharpen our minds to find practical solutions to problems. The country has several intellectual leaders whose ideas are often termed ‘out of the world’. As future leaders we should be able to develop the skill of coming up with practical solutions. We should not lose sight of our vision. It is the cause that should drive a person. When the vision of the cause becomes blurred, the journey towards the goal becomes difficult. It is important to always remind yourself of the cause you stand for, and make wise decisions that would benefit both the cause and the people.   

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 14

The fourteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

It is true that we learned valuable lessons from Nelson Mandela in a previous article as well, but there are many more lessons that we can learn from him; lessons that could make our homeland a better place to live in. We would also like to wish this great leader a speedy recovery…

“Know your enemy – and learn about his favourite sport”

The Afrikaners are white South Africans whose favourite sport was rugby. The blacks in South Africa preferred football. During Mandela’s time, the white South Africans treated the blacks as inferior to them. This made Mandela and several others voice against the apartheid policy. The blacks and whites in South Africa continued to fight with each other. The blacks would always support the team opposing their National Rugby team. The gap between the two groups got wider and wider. Mandela made attempts to narrow the gap. He started learning Afrikaans, the language of the white South Africans who created the apartheid. His comrades in the African National Congress (ANC) teased him about it, but Mandela wanted to understand the Afrikaner’s worldview; he knew that one day he would either be fighting with them or negotiating with them. Either way, his destiny was tied to theirs. This was strategic in two senses: by speaking his opponents’ language, he might understand their strengths and weaknesses and formulate tactics accordingly. But he would also be ingratiating with his enemy. Everyone from ordinary jailers to P.W. Botha was impressed by Mandela’s willingness to speak Afrikaans and his knowledge of Afrikaner history.
How many leaders in the country are trilingual? How many people around us speak both Tamil and Sinhala? It is a very small number that actually speaks the two languages commonly spoken in the country. Many leaders fail to see the importance of learning the other group’s language. They think that since they speak Sinhala, they can connect with the majority and that is enough to secure the majority votes. Only a few Sinhalese leaders attempt to learn Tamil, the language of the minority in Sri Lanka. The Tamil leaders on the other hand are compelled to learn Sinhala as they need to use that language when negotiating and speaking with the Sinhalese leaders. The language barrier is a reason for segregation in the country. The majority will start to think that since their language is the most widely spoken in the nation, they are superior to others. The minority on the other hand starts thinking that they are inferior to others. This creates room for issues and leads to violence.
To solve most of the problems in Sri Lanka, the leaders, irrespective of their background, should have a sound knowledge of Sinhala and Tamil. When this is achieved, the leaders would face fewer problems in connecting and speaking with the other group. They learn to see the way the other group had felt all this while. When this happens, the leaders would understand the challenges the opposing group faces and would try and work joining hands with the formerly opposing group. It is after Mandela learnt Afrikaners that he understood that blacks and Afrikaners had something fundamental in common: Afrikaners believed themselves to be Africans as deeply as blacks did. He knew too, that Afrikaners had been victims of prejudice themselves: the British government and the white English settlers looked down on them. Afrikaners suffered from a cultural inferiority complex almost as much as blacks did. If Mandela had not learnt Afrikaans, he would have never understood the common ground and South Africa would still be fighting amongst itself. We can see the importance of learning the other groups’ languages which serves to create opportunities for unity among segregated groups.

Mandela was a lawyer, and in prison he helped the warders with their legal problems. They were far less educated and worldly than he, and it was extraordinary to them that a black man was willing and able to help them. Allister Sparks, a great South African historian defines them as ‘the most ruthless and brutal of the apartheid regime’s characters. But Allister realized that even the worst and crudest could be negotiated with. This feat was possible only because Mandela took the initiative and effort to learn Afrikaans. As future leaders, what we can accomplish now, is taking the steps to learn both Sinhala and Tamil. Though it might be hard in the beginning, you never know the benefits the nation can receive later because it has leaders who can communicate with both the Sinhalese and the Tamils equally well, leading to equality among the citizens. 

“The Journey on the Road to Reconciliation”-Part 13

It’s an honour to present the thirteenth installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation). 

The power to reconcile resides in each one of us. It is essential that we use the suitable sources of power to put it into action. (N.B. This article is a continuation of the twelfth installment)

We will now discuss the sources of power.

Positional power: It is based upon the role or position an individual occupies in a society. It is passed from one individual to another as he or she moves in and out of the role.

Relational power: This does not reside in a particular individual but is a property of social relationships. For example, when you listen to a friend and respect his or her opinion, you give that person power. When that person listens to you and respects your opinions, you are given the power. In relationships, power is fluid and hard to measure. It can be expanded or limited as you interact. It depends on both individuals involved.

Power of force: It refers to physical strength and coercive mechanisms. Individuals may use their own strength, as well as weapons, armaments, armies, police and prisons to impose their will upon others. For example, we see bullies in the school using their physical strength to make others obey them.

Power of resources and status: This comes from wealth or social standing within the society. Individuals can use their money or their family and social ties to maintain a situation that is to their advantage or to get what they want. For example kings and queens are given royal power because of their family ties. In Sri Lanka we can see such power in play.

Power of knowledge and expertise: This refers to the additional credit and influence given to those in a society with special knowledge and expertise, such as doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers etc. Power comes from what they know. When we enter the rural communities, they respect the doctors, engineers and teachers as Gods. The society gives these professions power.

Power of a group: It comes from people acting together for a cause. The phrase “people power” is often quoted relevant to this. It refers to the power of individuals when they are part of a group. Labour unions and mass protest movements have power due to their large numbers. The leaders of such mass movements have the choices of either non violent protest or violent protest. We see many such movements being manipulated by the leaders towards violent protest. This would only increase the gap between the two groups. One should attempt to bridge the gap between the segregated parties by non violent approach as Gandhi did.

We should also study the personal powers we posses. As leaders it is vital that we know our strengths and weaknesses. We can identify personal powers of people around us and attempt to achieve that talent. Another option is trying to get that person on board the cause we stand for and use their talents. Some positive qualities that can be seen in leaders around us are energy, sense of direction, charisma, balance, sensitivity, perceptiveness, enthusiasm, sense of justice, ability to manage emotions rather than suppressing them, etc.

We should also make sure that we know the actions that would diminish the personal power we already possess. Unwillingly complying with others, not acknowledging our skills and talents, not being assertive, being afraid to take risks, feeling that we are trapped by the past difficulties and using disempowering language are a few to be named and we should be cautioned to not fall into those traps. When I said acknowledging the talents, it doesn’t mean boasting about it; rather it means being aware of the talents we possess in a non arrogant way. Thus we can realize that real power is shared, not imposed. It is the ability to define human needs and fulfill both our needs and the needs of the people we care about.

As citizens of this nation, we should know our rights and responsibilities in the country. Thomas Humphrey Marshall, a British Sociologist defines citizenship as follows. ‘Citizenship is status given to all those who are full members of the society. All citizens have equal rights and duties.’ In Sri Lanka we often speak about equal rights not being enforced. How many of the citizens actually fulfill the duties properly? How then can we only address the issue on non equal rights? What I believe is that the duties towards the country should be fulfilled and then the rights be debated. Just as rights are important, duties are important too. We shouldn’t be biased and argue only on the topic of rights, because rights and duties go hand in hand.