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5 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Nelson Mandela

5 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Nelson Mandela

As the world bids Nelson Mandela adieu, we must not forget that there will always be much to learn from this great man’s life. We take a look at the most important leadership lessons we can absorb from Mandela’s life …


“Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace,” said Prime Minister David Cameron said this morning referring to Nelson Mandela’s death. Right he was. Mandela will be sorely missed; not just in South Africa, but around the world.

During his long and illustrious life, Mandela experienced and faced many trials and tribulations in his fight to end Apartheid. But the greatest legacy he will leave behind will always be the indelible mark he leaves behind in the hearts of billions of people the world over, many of whom who weren’t even born when Apartheid ended.

Mandela’s greatest gift to mankind was that he taught us much without ever consciously trying to teach us; he was a true statesman and a naturally inspirational personality. We at LSBF will make an attempt at highlighting some of the greatest lessons in leadership that we were able to gain from Mandela’s life:

1)      Everyone deserves a chance

Mandela often presented the analogy of leading from behind and only coming to the fore when there is an absolute need for a strong leadership to assume control. A good leader must remember that their teams know what their duties are and, given the right level of autonomy, try to deliver their best results. Micro-management does not necessarily equate to being the best approach to team management and team-members would perform better if made to feel capable and appreciated.

2)      It’s all about strength of character

Rallying against all odds, Mandela fervently believed that giving up was not an option. During his close to three decades of incarceration, Mandela did not give up; he came out of it stronger than ever before and triumphed in his battle against oppression.

Any good leader needs to truly assume the mantle of leadership by winning the battle against losing morale. A strong leadership leads to a strong team. And a strong team is the foundation of a successful team.

3)      The best leaders know when to stop

Good leadership constitutes a desire to strengthen a team’s chance of success. But above all, it also constitutes accepting that there might be more leaders in the making around you and providing them an opportunity to succeed on their own. This is a lesson we can all learn from Nelson Mandela.

Post-Apartheid, factoring in the tremendous goodwill he had accrued amongst the masses, Mandela could have easily hoisted himself as a President-of-South-Africa-for-life similar in nature to have several independence leaders had done in the past. Instead, at the end of his tenure as president, Mandela decided to not run for office again. He acknowledged that there were other rising figures in his shadow that were showing glimpses of strong leadership. In passing them the baton of leadership at the most appropriate of junctures lies Mandela’s true success. In that, Mandela’s legacy as a leader will live on.

4)      Collaboration trumps monopolisation

Prominent anti-Apartheid campaigner George Bizos noted about Nelson Mandela, “We don’t have to be victims of our past, that we can let go of our bitterness, and that all of us can achieve greatness.” The way Mandela set about building a new South Africa recovering from a prolonged era of segregation was testimony to his belief that collaborating with all key stakeholders in the South African debate was the best way forward for the country.

In any negotiation, it is pertinent for the leaders to understand that the best possible outcome is for all involved parties to win. Mandela embodied this by aiding construct a new South African constitution with contributions from friends and foes alike.

5)      Always plan for the future

After having spent five years leading South Africa, Mandela stepped down. At that point, he noted, “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. We take leave so that the competent generation of lawyers, computer experts, economists, financiers, doctors, industrialists, engineers and above all ordinary workers and peasants can take us into the new millennium.” Mandela was 80 and he knew that, having laid the foundations for an egalitarian and democratic South Africa, the best future for the leadership of South Africa would rest in the hands of those who have watched and learnt from him. Having overseen the establishment of a ‘new’ South Africa, Mandela ensured that he groomed a new generation to be ready to take South Africa into the future when he was gone.

The strength of his leadership lay in the fact that he took it upon himself to front the planning for South Africa’s future. The hallmark of a good leader is in the leader’s preparedness and willingness to plan for the future, the future of the organisation and the future of the team.


Today is a sad day for humanity. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remarked, “A giant among men has passed away.” That is certainly true, but today’s also about remembering that we can all aspire to be; to help and to learn and to better ourselves.


And who better to learn from than Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela?


< Principal image, courtesy of ‘lasanta.com.ec’ on Flickr / Some rights reserved >

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