3 Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

By Joe Cunningham, Internet Marketing Manager

This will be a raindrop in an ocean of articles written about the late South African President who was and is an inspiration to many.  Therefore, I’ve chosen not to write another biography, but to focus on underlining three leadership traits he exemplified that we can apply to our own lives and businesses.

3 Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

1) Lead by Example

It is easy to say things like this when speaking about a particular virtue; it is a much larger task to do them.  During his presidency Mandela led the transition from “minority rule to a multicultural democracy,” forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the heinous crimes committed by both sides and grant amnesty in exchange for testimony.

Surely, Mandela’s enthusiasm for this effort did not come from the abuse he suffered during three decades of brutal imprisonment, but from his own desire for peace and the embodying of the value he was trying to instill in every one of his countryman.

2) Hard Work Driven by the Right Motivation

Nelson Mandela has received more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, for his work to better the lives of humankind.  He is truly one of “the great men.”  But, as true greatness would do, he never looked for recognition in his actions, but truly acted out of a desire to help his people.

Besides national reconciliation, Mandela created a host of domestic programs to drastically improve the physical well-being of the people of South Africa, he stepped in to resolve disputes between foreign nations due to the respect he had gained around the world, and he continued philanthropic efforts long after his political career was over, showing his altruistic concern.

And talk about putting your money where your mouth is, Mandela donated over one-third of his annual salary to charitable works, something I think that would be hard to replicate among statesman anywhere in the world.

Invictus3) Resilience

This is the first one I wrote because it is the most obvious, but the last one I mention because it is the most profound.

Many look at the man and do not know how hard he worked for his entire adult life to uphold human dignity and fight racism; they see only his later public career.  It is also intimidating to think of being in prison for 27 years in a third world country, but only the Mandela himself could describe what it was like to be a high target inmate in the darkness of that stone quarry prison.

I’m a big movie fan and what came to mind when I saw the news yesterday on television was Clint Eastwood’s movie from a few years ago entitled Invictus after the poem, which happens to be my second favorite and is recited by Morgan Freeman, who plays Mandela of course, during the course of the film.  The poem speaks for itself, is widely held as one of the best ever written, and is a more than fitting way to end this blog post.


By William Ernest Henley 

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the Master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul. 


Information taken from Wikipedia.

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