Mandela: Leadership Exemplified


I saw it fit this week to talk about Nelson Mandela, he is a global figure who represents many different things to many different people. To some he is the liberator, others the peace maker, others the great leader and to some he is still a terrorist.

To me Mandela represents a type of servant leadership that is greatly lacking in society today. In a world full of under the table BEE deals, squandered school money in Limpopo, Presidential manors and literal poo slinging in the Western Cape, one cannot but feel a need for Mandela style leadership. I know that the man is not perfect, many would argue that I don’t know pre Roben island Mandela and his designs on white South Africa, some would even argue how little post Roben Island Mandela did for the black community.  But today I’m arguing for and celebrating the man’s capability to lead as a servant to the people.

Please note that this is not a history lesson but the humble perception an ant such like myself has of an elephant such like Madiba.

Mandela as a Servant.

One of the strongest qualities one would admire most about Mandela is how he stood up for the disenfranchised, impoverished and oppressed. Against many odds he was the only black person studying law at the University of the Witwatersrand, he was clearly smarter than the rest. He could have simply forgotten politics and focused on law; he could have left the political game to others and bought a suburban house and dog. But he decided to use the skills he had acquired against heavy odds to the benefit of others. What they don’t tell you is that there were many other black firsts at that time, Mandela wasn’t the first successful black person, but some did not take the route he took. How many of us could have done this?

During his trial, Mandela again sacrificed himself to serve others. During the trial his goal was to bring attention to the plight of black people in South Africa. He would give elaborate speeches about freedom and oppression so as to give an international voice to those who could not. Wouldn’t you have focused on getting minimum jail time?

Into his old age even after release from prison, Mandela took the presidency and served his people. After so many years, the man had broken many personal relationships, missed family time and life as well as deteriorating health. But he had led his people to freedom through serving them.

There are many other examples of the personal sacrifices that Mandela made in order to serve his people and ultimately become one of the world’s greatest leaders.  But these stand out to me.

Exemplified leadership qualities.

There are some qualities that Mandela exemplified that we too can emulate in our daily lives in order to become more effective servant leaders.

  1. CourageThis needs no explanation. Fortune favours the bold. Nelson Mandela stood up and faced an almost certain death. He knew that he was standing up to a system that had already done away with many other revolutionaries. Courage is what enables you to take up the challenge, courage allows you to face a difficult situation and not shy away. What is your almost certain death?
  2. Focus and Vision– Madiba was clearly focused on seeing his people set free. Over a period of 50 years his actions were focused on the equal treatment of his people. In order to become more efficient leaders I think we all need to focus our energy on a way of serving– a Vision.
  3. Commitment – Focus is one thing, being able to commit to the focused activities is another. Mandela committed to his cause as a lawyer starting up, he committed during his trial, his sentence and during his presidency. We need to be able to show great commitment, this will enable others to follow and to commit to your vision as well.
  4. Communication – During his trial Mandela was able to use that time to communicate his message to the international community. This communication allowed him to get global attention and put pressure on the government.  He was also able to communicate to the people to set aside violence and assure that there will be no violence going forward. You need to be able to communicate your vision to different audiences. To be a great communicator you need to be a great listener as well, this allows you to understand how to serve your people and ultimately lead them.

The Leadership Journey.

There are many other qualities that define leadership, but I feel that the qualities above are integral to any leader. Courage allows you to take on a challenge and start moving, Vision and Focus will tell you were to go, Commitment will ensure that you stay on the road, Communication allows you to take other people and thus make the journey lighter.

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