The Art of Leadership and Lessons from the Past – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

NELSON MANDELA

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”          – Nelson Mandela  

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the
only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is
great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what
you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t
settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you
find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better
and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you
find it. Don’t settle.”       – Steve Jobs

“Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one
thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the
body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up.
It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is
never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger
the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was
never tired… You’ve always got to make the mind take over
and keep going.” – George S. Patton
 
 
The last quote applies to “the body” of a country as well, and disciplined as Mandela was he showed this already at a personal level, – last but not least during his years on Robben Island where he continued to inspire the movement for change against the odds. Mandela has been imprisoned for 27 years as a political prisoner. It neither changed his spirit nor did it stop him from continuing his struggle to make South Africa free of Apartheid.
When he entered Robben Island in 1964 he was emotionally headstrong and easily stung. The man however who emerged from this imprisoned island was far more balanced and disciplined. At some stage he said: “I came out mature.” He smiled like he often smiled, not showing fear despite going through fear at times, not showing the internal struggle he often experienced. His life has been always at the centre of struggle. In 1994, 4 years after his release from Robben Island , he became the first democratically elected “black” president of South Africa at the age of 75. He embraced at this stage both black and white in his efforts to create unity in the damaged “soul” of South Africa. He devoted his life to the fight against domination and gave it the very best performance, an enduring example for many generations to come. An example as well that regardless of age the course may endure and the dream will never die, if we have one being large enough to add value to life.
Life only is a brief expression of the universe with endless possibilities and ideas, both in the positive and the negative. Mandela tuned into the irreversible idea for justice to be achieved for South Africa and made it his lives work, neither only justice for the blacks but denied justice as well for the whites who were prisoners of being tuned into the wrong ideology. Once a country is tuned into the wrong stuff many citizens unfortunately do resonate with the same wrong stuff, whatever it is. We did see this in Germany in the 1940ties. We did see this more recently in Syria and Libya and there is a whole list of countries without true compass, neither with justice nor with law enforcement to enforce this justice if people lack self-control. 
Whilst being influenced by the Gandhi principles on non-violence and initially committed to non violent resistance. Mandela and 150 others were arrested on 5 December 1956 and charged with treason. This slowly changed the consensus over the years within the ANC. It could prove that nonviolent resistance did not work. Whilst Mandela intended to prevent bloodshed even where opponents were the culprits of bloodshed, he could not commit himself to the principle of non-violence anymore as the Government in place allowed the (secret) police to abuse human rights in all dimensions, including all sorts of torture. Being on Robben Island and Mandela seeking obviously freedom, President Botha offered Mandela in 1985 this freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. Mandela released however a statement via his daughter Zindzi saying “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
Mandela added to value of life and to the culture of ideas which makes nations an enduring entity if they stick to the same principles. If the manifestation of a non dominant multiracial culture would have been achieved before the agony of apartheid the struggle now perhaps would be more in the nature of perfecting the “Union” of people in South Africa, – working in peaceful harmony together, with South Africa being a powerful reflection of a well-integrated society maintaining a strong economy for the benefit of all, with proper law enforcement being the protection for all it’s citizens.
From this point of view South Africa has still a long way to go, with “the culture of heart” from Mandela to be maintained and cherished as an ongoing example and “Compass”, long even after he has gone.
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It’s an obligation by principle for the new leaders in South Africa, to resist the various temptations as Mandela did. He did not cut corners in his approach and whilst President of South Africa, with an inclusive wisdom and both a sense of justice he did facilitate via his government a range of progressive social reforms, for reducing long entrenched social and economic inequalities in South Africa. 
His views on the world were not always free of controversies. He strongly opposed the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo and criticised the foreign policy US president George W. Bush in a number of speeches, criticising the lack of UN involvement in the decision to begin the War in Iraq. He said, “It is a tragedy, what is happening, what Bush is doing. But Bush is now undermining the United Nations.”
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Mandela stated he would support action against Iraq only if it is ordered by the UN. Mandela urged the people of the US to join massive protests against Bush and called on world leaders, especially those with vetoes in the UN Security Council, to oppose him. ” What I am condemning is that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” Nelson Mandela also harshly condemned British Prime Minister Tony Blair and referred to him as the “foreign minister of the United States”.
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Whilst correct in his assessment on the war in Iraq, on the other hand Mandela was uncommonly loyal to Muhammad Gaddafi and Fidel Castro. They had helped the ANC when the U.S. still branded Mandela as a terrorist.
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Mandela has received over 200 rewards during four decades and in 1993 the Nobel Peace Price. The United Nations General Assembly announced in November 2009 that Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, is to be known as ‘Mandela Day’ to mark his contribution to world freedom, a reflection not only of his meaning to South Africa but to the world in what has been achieved through his lifelong struggle on the road to freedom.
What can we learn about leadership from Nelson Mandela?
 
1. A particular purpose adding value to the lives of people at a certain time and a certain place.
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 “The struggle is my life’,  Nelson Mandela once said. Obviously this was not his goal or meaning but it was the reflections of his endeavours to reach his mission to irradiate social injustice in South Africa, racial segregation involving apartheid, discrimination which involved black and coloured people. His life was centred around his goal of creating racial equality. It is clear this was a meaningful purpose affecting many in the positive, resonating positively in the wider context and principle of justice, considering what South Africa has gone through over various decades. As the injustice of “Apartheid” was widely felt both national and international, he did link into an overwhelming majority who felt similar and in his passion for his goal to end this injustice as peaceful as possible did attract an immense support on the road to freedom. Besides this he had the unique characteristics to embody and represent the movement for change, despite intermittent frictions about the right approach. However obviously a leader needs to be able to articulate a wider felt purpose to improve the conditions of others and the more this is tuned or aligned with wider values on the issues at the time, the more support he or she is able to create. Nelson Mandela fits this requirement in full, however this is a very general requirement and there are “Mandela specifics” adding extensively to the leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela. The true worth of Nelson Mandela was not found in himself, but in the changes, the textures and colours that came alive in South Africa as a result of what he added to the history of the people in South Africa.
2. Don’t quit, – “stick-to-itiveness.”
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What dies in people while they are alive by not even attempting to give their once felt dreams the required efforts (even at the risk of not achieving them) is a sad thing. Some start their pathway with good efforts but when they meet strong resistance and times get tough they give up. They tried at least and find perhaps something else. Some would give it the extra inch being required and come on top, but even this is not fool-proof to be successful. How far to take matters is an individual choice and sometimes some soul-searching is required in the question how far to take the desired outcome and at which costs. If the goal is not a self-serving one and is able to stretch to the interests and justice for the many rather than the few who can serve themselves, there is a power in the words: “Stick – to – itiviness and don’t quit!” Even if we don’t succeed to see “the promised land” ourselves. Obviously we speak here about life changing goals and major changes as being faced with eg people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, apart from various others. For the majority of people the goals are different and may change, but nevertheless there is a fair point to stick it out if there is something you dearly want to achieve. Don’t give up , don’t give in and grow into those goals so that life can’t rob you from it.

Mandela did face many challenges and set backs but in the face of a most powerful government he persisted. His life was his argument by setting an example. Even sentenced to a long stay on Robben Island with freedom taken away, his reputation grew as the most significant black leader of South Africa. He still however had freedom, the last freedom, – the freedom of choice how to take his predicament. “You have to make the mind run the body”, tells the quote at the start of this article. This is what Mandela did. Obviously he was tired at times. Obviously he did ask the question:”Is it still possible?”. Obviously there have been times of despair. He was just a human being and who would not feel lost occasionally in the circumstances he faced. However he persistently continued certain habits. In prison, Mandela kept habits that were already in place. He did stick eg to the disciplined eating regime of an athlete, his early morning exercise and not allowing his spirit to get crushed. He performed hard labour in a lime quarry and needless to say the prison conditions were most basic. Political and black prisoners were kept separate and received the lowest level of privileges. Mandela was allowed one letter and one visitor each 6 months. With the restrictions he had he undertook a distance learning program with the University of London by correspondence and obtained a bachelor degree of Laws. He inspired young black activists imprisoned on Robben Island until authorities tried to break the what was called “The Mandela University” by separating senior ANC leaders like him, Walter Sisulu, Mlaba,Kathrada and Mlangeni from the ANC junior’s. This was in a nutshell Mandela’s response to adversity. It did not leave him unchanged, he became better rather than bitter. This adversity did cultivate both patience and maturity, both planning and timing. It was a creative response, the last choice we have. He created even meaning during his time as a black prisoner, with no real prospect in the beginning that he would ever set foot alive on mainland South Africa.

3. Dare to lead from the front but don’t leave your base behind.

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After Mandela was treated for his prostate in 1985 he was separated from his his senior friends and colleagues. Sisulu and the others protested against this but Kathrada considered that perhaps something good may come out of this. What Mandela did was perhaps the most daring thing only a leader can do who keeps the broader picture in mind. He started negotiations  with the apartheid government after stating initially that prisoners can’t negotiate and that armed struggle would bring the government down. The risk of total escalating violence was such a grave perspective that he decided to negotiate with a willing apartheid government at the time, oppressors who had the same perception that thing could get totally out of control. Mandela took an immense risk at the time and with his reputation on the line within the ANC he explained to his base that the refusal to negotiate was only a tacticle move, not a move by principle. He proved to be most pragmatic as the climate was right to negotiate and he had to arrive at this position first, with his base following. Easier said than done as within the ANC there were people convinced he totally lost it. However Mandela made it. He took the long view as matters were unavoidable to change in the decade ahead. This was a most risky move which could have cost his live. Within a different context US President John F Kennedy took the long view on peace to be far more important than war, with a base being radical anti-communist. He went out of his way to avoid an all out nuclear war on Cuba and he was ahead of his time to realise that the Vietnam war was a waste of American lives and American interests, which proved to be the case many years after his assassination. His “military base” at home, including the US establishment could neither take this broader long view nor this independent President, – hence he was killed. Daring to lead from the front requires to take the base with you. It is a principle in leadership, – stronger it is a principle to survive when times are tough. As a leader at times you have to take this risk and make a move for the better, with the full picture in mind. But don’t do it on your own. Make sure your base is involved and you have the support of the majority, provided there is not an immediate crisis where you have to trust your better instincts against those who may distrust you. In those situations only quick and positive results will take the resistance away. It can be however a real challenge, but Mandela had enough credit to take this calculated move and he proved to be right.

(How was he so sure?  He was a lawyer and in prison he discovered that the worst and most cruel prison guards were receptive to him whilst offering legal aid to them based on their needs, leaving them completely puzzled and surprised, – that a black man far more educated than them was prepared to do this. Mandela sensed that when you approached those people in the right way, you could do business and negotiate with them, even with the worst representatives of the apartheid regime.)

4. Compassion inclusive of differences.
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Nelson Mandela became President (1994-1999) of a divided country with hatred at both sides of the spectrum. He persisted in taking the long view as hatred is not the way forward of building the foundations of a new South Africa. Mandela’s aim was a country with racial equality and justice to all parties being part of this new South Africa. Not an easy task, especially where it comes to national reconciliation. And here we might touch base on a few “Mandela specifics”, skills or attitudes not being new but used with integrity to achieve desired results. Let’s face it, Mandela did express unique wisdom in his general approach:

During the 1994 Presidential election campaign on his way to Natal to speak to Zulu supporters, Mandela’s plane nearly crashed as due to engine failure. There was some panic indeed but Mandela calmly continued to read his news paper, which did reassure some. Was he scared?  He was terrified up there but did not show it because he felt as a leader you can’t show fear. Through the act of making the impression to have no fear, he was an example and inspiration for others in this specific situation. He learnt this at Robben Island as there was enough going on there to provide plenty of fear. However he learnt to master his fear, it’s part of being a good actor at times.The best performance is trying to be a model for others which can give strength, both to yourself and those others. Mandela knew it worked this way.*Part of best performance is to smile, rather than showing anger. There was enough to be angry about but it would not help one bit as often anger will be responded with anger. What you resonate to other people will often come back to you and Mandela knew that his relaxed smile was able to melt icy relationships. It is part of the performance understood by both Mandela and eg US President Barack Obama. Appearance like a smiling one is able to advance a message, in his case the message or symbol actually of lacking bitterness. Mandela knew the past. He knew the past of South Africa. He knew the past of being detained. He knew what happened in detention. But for the sake to achieve national unity you had to set those emotions aside. He often said to forget the past as he really meant to achieve the future, which he projected with an all-inclusive smile. It’s true, he not always felt like this. However it was not part of an empty show, –  it was his effort and struggle to embrace a modern South Africa and to move forward, building different dynamics by choice and not emotions. Compassion at a different level than we are used to, with the bigger picture being more important than personal emotions.*Mandela knew exactly when to take the next step in the transition of once being a warrior, a politician thereafter, a diplomat and finally a statesman. He was an excellent tactician and a smart politician. Obviously he did stick to his core principles and aims, but often – as he tended to say – issues were rarely a matter of principles, but far more often a matter of tactics. Gandhi as earlier discussed had a similar brilliant approach. In his case independence from Britten by the principle of non-violence to be achieved, but many other issues by the right choice of tactic. People with compassion and integrity allowing and being inclusive of differences need to use tactics as in this world you can’t do without it to get desired results, – in an environment often being hostile and not without danger.*Mandela knew what was important for white South Africans. He studied their language, their culture and was able to impress many with his knowledge and his respect being shown to them in Government. He “kept his allies close but his (potential) opponents even more close”, – as the saying goes. He had a remarkable talent to make people at ease, make them feel important with often showing interest in their personal circumstances. It was the best way to break potential “icy relationships” and setting the tune of dynamics. Many people (let’s say white people) changed their mind or opinion after meeting him, – even worst opponents from the past.

*Mandela managed to get black South Africans behind the previously hated South African national rugby team (Springboks) when South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After the Springboks did achieve to win from New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to the Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar’s own number 6 on the back. This again was a major reflection of his efforts to get increased reconciliation of both white and black South Africans. Using such a popular sport at the time more within the “white” domain to unify the country in its achievement was superseding the terminology of good tactics, – it was simply a wise move.

One of the skills in various meetings Mandela used was “The Indian Talking Stick”. An effective tool from ancient Indian culture of listening respectfully to others when they speak and speak only when it is your turn.  Mandela after carefully listening to different opinions in various meetings often spoke as the last one, providing a distinct summary so that people felt understood but meanwhile as a leader directing the outcome of the discussion in the way he actually wanted. On the one hand being led but on the other hand leading so that people could buy into the outcome. It’s a way of creatively resolving differences and get an agreement which works at the point of bonding and trust.
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Needless to say that in terms of leadership there is more to say about Nelson Mandela. Both his live and his goal were one in the struggle to get South Africa out of the agony of Apartheid and with his leadership he not only succeeded, but he provided an enduring example and direction. The symbol of the man speaks at times stronger than his own words could do, but the direction should be a “lighthouse” for South Africa to facilitate a more perfect union of people, – working together for shared interests in this beautiful country down south in Africa.

Thank you!

 Paul 

Paul Alexander Wolf
. 

20 thoughts on “The Art of Leadership and Lessons from the Past – Nelson Mandela”

  1. It is one of the most excellent articles on principles, leadership and courage I’ve ever read! Nelson Mandela has allowed us to know the true meaning of the struggle against domination. It is our responsibility to keep alive his legacy of hope, in South Africa and the world!

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  2. Greetings from Atlanta: City of Peace. Hello Dr. Wolf. You are such a deep thinker and quite productive too. I really enjoyed this article on Nelson Mandela. For our global family to continue to have hope for the future, we will collectively need more and more courageous siblings like him to “get up and stand up.” I admire your example of courage too and I hope a talented literary agent and editor discovers you so that your articles can be published into a book. In the words of Don Quixote: “Onward and forward.”
    John R. Naugle
    Founder, President & CEO
    Atlanta: City of Peace, Inc. (ACP)
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/ATLpeace

    Like

  3. Only a child would believe this in times gone by…Now as the years have evolved, we can see in this lifetime that lessons are still to be learned !!

    As you know the offenders act like children, the dictators and the people not being the real leaders of our people. We are one world one nation, we are all brothers and sisters – when will we see peace?

    We can all learn from Nelson Mandela for the future of this world.

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  4. I’d should examine with you here, which is not something I normally do!

    I enjoy studying a submit that will make people think. Thank you for permitting me to comment!

    Like

  5. I am reminded of another radical “leader” who changed the world we live in. In his time, the entire world as everyone knew it was a single government, perverse, with no rights unless you were a Roman citizen. All sin was acceptable against your fellow man, nothing was outside the law, as long as you were the one in power.

    Today, we have many in power who believe that they have the right to profit off the rest of us by polluting our earth, creating a poorer class without the ability to improve one’s own life. We see it in the established power, companies, oil companies, and established governments in the world who believe that lobbyists who spend money on those politicians are the ones to listen to instead of the people.

    But history has taught us that doing what is wrong can never prosper forever. God does have a plan for us all, a dream of a better world where we all have our part.

    The Dreamgiver has given all of us our dream and responsibilties of what we should do, we only need to act.

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  6. Hi Paul, I love your blog. Have you considered adding and RSS feed feature? That will allow me to get automatic updates of new pages. If you set up notifications via RSS, please email me! I will fav your blog for now. Again Excellent topic!

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  7. I think other site proprietors should take this website as an model, very clean and excellent user genial style and design, let alone the content. You are an expert in this topic on leadership!

    Like

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  9. Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  10. I mentioned in my Rebbeca Van Dyck article, I headed over on the new Facebook campus to photograph CSO (Chief Security Officer) Joe

    Like

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