Nelson Mandela: The leader


NELSON Rolihlahla Mandela is no more. I never met the man in person, but his death touched my heart. He was not perfect, but he is indisputably a legend and by any standard a unifying leader.

There are a lot of leadership lessons we can glean from Mandela’s life. To celebrate his life, I will highlight a few of his quotes and attributes that great leaders should have.

  • Great leaders have vision
    Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years. However, he did not give up or lose focus of his vision. In Mandela’s own words, “everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do”.
  • Great leaders do not play small
    “There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
  • Great leaders have courage
    This means facing the harsh or brutal realities of your situation and choosing to follow what you think is the morally right course of action. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
  • Great leaders lead by example.
    Great leaders lead by example. They live by what they believe in and inspire others.
  • Great leaders create their own brand of leadership
    As a leader, your name must symbolise and be associated with a set of values. Mandela’s name is synonymous with peace, forgiveness, humility and selflessness.
  • Great leaders are humble
    Great leaders practise humility. Mandela won a Nobel Peace Prize, had streets and a museum named after him, postage stamps in his image, but he insisted that all honours be in tribute not to him, but to the causes he stood for.
  • Great leaders know appearances matter
    Mandela was never a great public speaker, but his signature shirts and more importantly his sincere, all-inclusive smile sure drew people to him.
  • Great leaders know when to let go
    Great leaders know when to take a step back. They know when it is time to go so that their legacy lives on. They are not afraid to pass on the baton to potential successors.
  • Great leaders leave a legacy
    “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is the difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.

“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.” Mandela will forever be remembered.

 Nonto Masuku is an executive partner of an image management consultancy firm.