Session three Episode 2 - Don’t do it alone
Welcome to our video series on practicing adaptive leadership.
In the previous video we introduced the 3 guidelines of practicing adaptive leadership (Please watch our
previous video for an introduction of this session).
In this video, we’ll look at the first step to practicing adaptive leadership, Don’t do it alone.
This is the step that sounds easy and obvious. However, many people who try to do the right thing end up
falling in the trap of taking on the journey by themselves. By doing so, the journey ends up lonely and
dangerous as one becomes an easy target to those who find threat in the good work.
Why do so many people end up doing it alone when the danger is so obvious? Why is there the temptation
of trying to do it alone? There are various reasons which include:
1. Opponents trap - Your opponents will do everything to make you vulnerable. They will
encourage you to have courage in fighting for what you believe in. This will make you happy to
oblige and even isolate yourself more.
2. Praise for being on the front line - Many people enjoy the plaudits that come from being on the
front line. This danger even rises when your allies sense that you are fully committed. They will
encourage you by praising your steps towards your goal. However, none of them is ready to make
a step to support you.
3. Passion and commitment - Belief in what you are doing is indispensable to your willingness to
take the risks of leading adaptive change. This makes one vulnerable ending up getting caught in
the cause that they do not detect danger signals leading to failure.
During the apartheid regime, South Africa had a dubious reputation of boasting one of the highest prison
populations in the world. This became a concern for the two most educated lawyers; Nelson Mandela and
Oliver Tambo. The two thought they knew what racial injustice was all about. But their experience of
overflowing human misery in their cramped lawyers’ offices opened their eyes to the real suffering of
As lawyers, they presented African grievances to the white leadership. However, the softer policies of
negotiation and compliance achieved nothing. The ANC political and anti-apartheid party which had been
formed by Mandela gained popularity as both blacks and some white people believed in the ANC politics.
Mandela and Tambo were key in organizing the Defiance Campaign resulting in Mandela imprisonment
and Tambo going to exile.
In prison, Mandela was offered freedom to denounce opposition to the government by President Botha.
Having known how oppressed people of South Africa were, Mandela told president Botha "What freedom
am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? And What freedom am I being
offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?"
Mandela did not do it alone; Tambo assisted him to keep his initiative alive from exile and citizens who
had subscribed to ANC party ensured that they kept the apartheid regime on toss.
Whether you are taking on a small initiative or a large one, do not go it alone. Find partners who will
share the dangers and the exposure. Together, you will stand a far better chance of avoiding attacks from
opponents and keeping initiative alive.