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Nelson Mandela's Mercedes

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela. One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE. Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked. It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles? What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela.

One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE.

Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked.

It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles?

What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams