Nelson Mandela – A Leadership Beyond Great

Published on: Tue 10 December 2013 by Admin

It is with great sadness that we bid farewell to an inspirational man this week.  Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter, prisoner, politician and revolutionary leader, a father of a nation.

Some say Mandela was always going to achieve great things that it was his ‘destiny’ and he was ‘born to lead’.  What exactly was it about Nelson Mandela that made him a great leader and inspiration for so many?

Leadership can be difficult to define, mostly because it means so many different things to different people.  We know it is about vision, determination and strength of character but Mandela had more than that, Mandela had charisma, compassion and an ability to see opportunity in the face of adversity rarely found in society today.  So how did he come to acquire these skills?

There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela had some influential mentors in his early life.  He was born into the Thembu royal family on 18th July 1918 with the African name Rolihlahla.  The literal translation is ‘pulling branch off a tree’ or in its colloquial sense ‘troublemaker’ (it seems Mr Mandela certainly lived up to his name). His father was the chief councillor to the paramount chief of Tembu.  His father died when he was 9 years old and his cousin the paramount chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who was heir to the throne, became his guardian.  He spent his early childhood in the Transkei being groomed for a role within tribal leadership.

Was it this start in life that began him on the journey to become the great man we know him as today?  There is no doubt that a great mentor can have an enormous impact on someone’s life and career.  A guide, someone with greater experience and wisdom that can offer advice, support and empower mentees to take the next step and achieve their own vision.  Mandela was clearly being guided by his mentors in his early life into a position of leadership, but was this journey inevitable?

During the weekend a post appeared in my feed for one of the social networking sites –

“‘There are two primary conditions in life; you accept things as they are or you accept responsibility for changing them’ Thank you Mr Mandela for doing the latter”

This got me thinking, again about leadership and the suggestion that we are born into it.  For sure Nelson Mandela was born into a family where leadership and a sense of duty were the norm and he no doubt responded to the mentoring that was available to him. However, I think he took it further than that.

He had a clear vision, an aspirational goal and he accepted responsibility for challenging the imbalances of the apartheid. He made mistakes but continuously chose to learn from them instead of repeating them. He was a great role model, appearing fearless in his goal to challenge the status quo, a great listener with an incredible ability to persuade others and the wisdom to know when to abandon an idea that is not working. It is these qualities that, in my opinion, make Nelson Mandela one of the most respected world leaders of modern times.