Everything has been said, but we still wanted to add our voice to those who have been feting Nelson Mandela as the greatest leader the world has seen in recent history. He gave us the best example of being a good leader that he could ever have given us, as was evidenced by the huge number of world leaders who went to Soweto this week to pay their respects. In the words of President Barack Obama: "While I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be a better man."
So what was it about Nelson Mandela that epitomized everything that a good leader should be? I'm going to look at his personal qualities and how they translate into leadership qualities:
- He had humility, and when others put him on a pedestal, he was quick to remind them that he was no greater than them: "I am not a saint, unless you consider a saint to be a sinner who keeps on trying." When he would meet people on the street, he would often jump in first with the line: "I am so honored to meet you." What a great way of reminding people you're human, like they are!
- He had a great sense of humor to disarm people with, to "break the ice," and to win people's loyalty. He didn't take himself seriously, but understood the serious nature of his position, and the power that came with it. He would often kick off his speeches thanking everyone for coming to see "such an old man!"
- He led by example. He made it very clear that there were no lengths that he wouldn't go to to achieve his vision, but he didn't just encourage others to join him. He "showed" them how to behave, and the dignity with which he conducted himself after 27 years in prison was how he wanted others to behave.
- He had the strength of character to forgive those who imprisoned him, but went a step further and invited his jailers into his life when he was released. There's an old adage about "keeping your friends close but your enemies closer," and this was clearly what Mandela believed -- that you will never overcome hatred with equal amounts of hatred back. This is another point about leading by example, and how he wanted to show his opposition how to behave.
- His sense of conviction was second-to-none. He believed passionately in his vision of a united South Africa, and never gave up on it, whatever the consequences to him personally, and however long it took. As he said: "There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires."
- He had an ability to negotiate, reason and argue, which could have come largely from his legal training. As a leader, these qualities are vital if you are ever to break down stubborn opposition -- you can not lead if you are constantly being swayed by your detractors.
- He had no fear, or none that he showed. When tested, it was his strength that everyone recognized, and his ability to face the consequences of his actions. Being a leader requires courage.
These are the leadership qualities that Nelson Mandela will forever be remembered and be congratulated for. All in all, he was able to strike the balance between being totally human, connecting with people on all levels and also being incredibly powerful, provocative and ultimately memorable.
Be inspired by the great man.