What Nelson Mandela taught us about leadership

December 6, 2013
December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela will be remembered not only for his unrelenting pursuit of racial equality but also his fearless leadership. His guidance led a divided country into an era of racial peace and economic prosperity. The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in a public statement, acknowledged Mandela’s exceptionalism and his universal appeal:

But the spirit of greatness that he personified resides in all of us. Human beings are made for greatness. Nelson Mandela embodied and reflected our collective greatness. He embodied our hopes and our dreams. He symbolised our enormous potential, potential that has not always been fulfilled.

Mandela, who spoke prolifically, left behind a collection of inspirational quotes on which every leader should reflect. Some of the best:

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” —Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” —From a letter to Winnie Mandela, 1975

“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.” —International AIDS conference, 2000

“Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the struggle we serve.” —Presidential adress to the ANC Transvaal Congress, 1953

World leaders took to Twitter after the news to voice their own appreciation for Mandela and his leadership. Presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs reflected on Mandela’s effect on their own lives and leadership:

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