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The Secrets of Leadership – Nelson Mandela July 27, 2008

Posted by Arun Rajagopal in Conversations, Pot Pourri.
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Nelson Mandela, originally uploaded by SouthAfricaLogue.com.

As Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday, Time magazine had him on its cover and featured an excellent story on lessons of effective leadership, based on Mandela’s life.

In a very compelling read, Times Managing Editor Richard Stengel, who has also worked on Mandela’s biography Long Walk to Freedom, gives us 8 powerful lessons of leadership from one of the most iconic leaders in contemporary history.

What makes this article more interesting is that we gain an insight into the singular events and experiences that shaped Mandela into a leader par excellence over the years.

One might be familiar with Mandela’s life, his struggle against the apartheid regime and his other accomplishments, but I found it very interesting that the author took each lesson of leadership and tied it to a specific experience or hitherto unknown episode from Mandela’s life. Thus, the article gives us an insider edge and delves more into the workings of the mind of a great leader.

The 8 lessons focus on defining courage as inspiring people to move beyond fear, leading from the front as well as behind, knowing opponents better, keeping friends close and rivals closer, maintaining appearances, accepting that not everything is black or white, and believing that quitting is leading too.

I felt that Mandela dedicated a good part of his life to groom himself into the mould of leadership, and was always mindful of his strengths and weaknesses in his public role. It was a huge but worthy investment he made. His prison years played a key role in his transformation – he apparently went in emotional and headstrong, and walked out balanced and disciplined. In his own words: “I came out mature.”

One sees a brilliant image of Mandela as a master tactician, who always played to his strengths, understood gray areas like no other, compromised without giving much away, adapted well at every turn life took and read his opponents very well.

And that is a very interesting insight, because a good leader is really, really smart at the core with a genuine shell of humanness. While the humane qualities endear him to the masses, the smartness ensures that he does well in the leadership position.

Nelson Mandela’s life is an excellent example to a lot of people who aspire to lead people, especially when they have no chance of leadership being thrust upon them. Being a leader is certainly hard work, but there are many lessons one can learn from the greats. Read the story on time.com here.