Lessons in Leadership and Life from Nelson Mandela

December 6, 2013 / Diversity, Leadership / 2 Comments /

mandelaleadThe simple definition of leadership is the power or ability to lead other people.  But leadership is anything but simple. 

“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” – Nelson Mandela

If you think of some of the greatest leaders this world has ever known –  they’ve all fought for a cause with passion and determination and inspired others to do the same. John F. Kennedy, Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela – they all took controversial positions on topics – and lead a nation, and in some instances, a world, to believe in and support positive change.

That’s what a great leader does – they inspire a group of people to want to achieve great things. 

Nelson Mandela, from a prison cell, inspired people around the world to support the anti-apartheid movement.  “Free Mandela” was often shouted in protests – protests that were organized by people who never met him.  But, yet, they believed in him and thus what he stood for – Equality!

With the news of Nelson Mandela’s death, it’s difficult not to reflect on how his leadership can continue to inspire other great leaders.  President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Colin Powell all spoke recently of how Mandela influenced not just their life, but also their careers, through his persona and leadership.

So how was Nelson Mandela able to lead and influence so many people to support his cause? Why was he such a great leader?  And how can you learn those lessons to inspire people around you to do great things?

Transparency: Great leaders are honest, open and transparent. They share their passions and make no excuses for supporting the causes they believe in. Mandela was in fact so transparent, his words and actions to support them, landed him in prison. No wondering where he stood on the matter of freedom and equality. This transparency inspired followership. Whether leading in politics or in business, when making strategic decisions, determining changes or facing issues that impact employees or followers, successful leaders are transparent in why they believe in a cause or made a decision, they’re open with their thought process, and sharing how their actions may directly impact others.

Compassion: The basis of good leadership is honorable character and selfless service; something Mandela had in abundance. Great leaders have a compassion for people, and the betterment of their personal situations, not just professional ones. When leaders show compassion and understanding, it becomes easier for people to notice that they are interested and concerned for the greater good, and not self-serving and aloof, as leaders can often appear.

Awareness: Successful leaders have a heightened level of self-awareness; they have an understanding of themselves, their behaviors and actions, and how those behaviors and actions are interpreted by, and directly impact, those they inspire or lead. Mandela had a great awareness of his way of being, his patience, calm confidence, forgiveness, and humor all helped to increase his followership – helping to gain support in achieving his goals and making a positive impact. Be proficient and competent, know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, and do take responsibility and lead by example. Always be open to further growth and learning.

For more traits that make inspirational and successful leaders see our Checklist: How to be a Great Leader!  or check out some of our other blogs on the topic.

To demonstrate good leadership – one doesn’t have to inspire a political movement.  Being a good leader can start at home and in your office…who knows where it will take you from there!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm.  He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing  people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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