diverse stack of hands teamwork concept

Throughout your life, professionally and otherwise, you can likely think of certain stand-out moments or experiences that really made you stop and think or that left a distinct impression and somehow shaped your views or goals. For me, one of those impactful moments came about eight years ago when I came across a video of Nelson Mandela discussing the concept of “Ubuntu”.

Ubuntu is a philosophy about humanity and interconnectedness that originated in southern Africa, and the word itself can be loosely translated as “I am because we are, and we are because I am.”

In the video, Mandela talks about the “old days when everyone helped one another,” and he tells the story of a traveller who stopped at a village very hungry, thirsty and hot. Without the traveller even asking, the people of the village happily gave him food and water, and made sure he was taken care of. This was because the people shared the belief that no single person is more or less important than anyone else, and it’s through helping and supporting every individual that the greatest good can be achieved. Mandela then went on to reinforce the values behind Ubuntu: respect, helpfulness, caring, community, trust and unselfishness.

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Though the video itself was fairly simple in its presentation, I found its message to be so powerful. By embracing positivity, respecting the importance of community, living to our highest potential and at the same time always looking for and seeing the potential of others, we can collectively accomplish more. And while generally speaking, this philosophy applies very broadly to society, for me, it also really struck a chord for how we can achieve the greatest success in a work and team environment. 

Seeing this video and learning about Ubuntu has helped to shape my leadership style over the years, and by adopting this philosophy in our team and as part of our approach, we’ve seen the benefits it creates when many work as one. 

In putting Ubuntu into practice within a team setting, the focus is really on appreciating each individual for their own specific skills, talents and expertise, and at the same time recognizing that it takes every single person in order for the team to be at its strongest.

And what it really comes down to is being conscious of taking positive steps each day. Knowing and caring about how your colleagues are doing is so important, and I think we should all have the mindset of wanting to help to benefit the team. So, if you’re sitting at your desk and you’re ahead of schedule, and you see that your colleague beside you is piled up and stressed out, you can do two things: leave them alone or ask “How can I help?”

Big or small, our actions make a difference, and when you develop a team culture of helping, sharing knowledge, collaborating and respecting differences, everyone has a better chance of raising the bar together. 

Nelson Mandela is well-remembered globally as a true icon who devoted his life to freedom, justice and equality. To honour his impact on history and to help in continuing to share his incredible story, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in partnership with the Apartheid Museum (South Africa), has produced a unique exhibition showcasing Nelson Mandela’s inspiring life and legacy. Find out more at Mandela: Struggle for Freedom.