“It would not be right to compare me to Gandhi. None of us could equal his dedication or his humility. He showed us it’s necessary to brave imprisonment if truth and justice were to triumph over evil.” Nelson Mandela.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela on December 5, 2013, the world has lost one of the towering personalities of the 20th century. He is known to the world not as a black leader but as a global leader who made a significant difference to the world with his convictions to end apartheid in South Africa.
Hence, I eulogize a few words about his contribution to South Africa and the lessons leaders must learn from this leadership legend. He spent 27 years of his prime life in jail. He showed that leader with conviction and conscience can make a difference to the world. Here is his brief profile:
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18 July 1918 in Mvezo, Cape Province, South Africa. He received Bharata Ratna from India in 1990. He received Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and Presidential Medal of Freedom from US apart from receiving 250 honors globally. He died on 5 December 2013 at his home in Johannesburg. As Mahatma Gandhi is described as “the father of the nation” Nelson Mandela is often described as “the father of the nation”. In a nut shell, Mandela is the Mahatma Gandhi of South Africa.
There are many Nobel laureates who were followers of Mahatma Gandhi; Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King Jr, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Mandela said that Mahatma Gandhi was his ‘political guru’. There are many political, business and religious leaders who consider Nelson Mandela a mentor, guru and role model. When asked in an interview who was his mentor, Alan Richter, founder and president of QED Consulting said “A role model for me, not mentor, is Nelson Mandela. He was such an exemplary leader! A man of integrity, compassion, brilliantly creative, and able to unite people toward goals.”
As a mark of respect to this legend, in November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, as “Mandela Day”, marking his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. It called on individuals to donate 67 minutes to doing something for others, commemorating the 67 years that Mandela had been a part of the movement. Here is the international acclaim about Nelson Mandela:
“Many around the world were influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways.” Ban Ki-Moon, UN General Secretary.
“A man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.” Barack Obama U.S. President.
“A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I’ve asked for the flag at No.10 to be flown at half mast.” David Cameron, Prime Minister of UK.
Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela walked his talk throughout his life. He practiced what he preached and earned credibility as an international leader. He led from the front with convictions braving several odds and undergoing trials and tribulations. He stood by what was just and right.
He openly said that he was not a great man. He had his own weaknesses and honestly admitted, “I could never reach the standard of morality, simplicity and love for the poor set by the Mahatma. While Gandhi was a human without weaknesses, I am a man of many weaknesses.” It shows his integrity and humility.
He was a flexible leader who reinvented from the methods of violence to non-violence to end apartheid in South Africa following the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi. He shifted his leadership style from transactional to transformational in his later part of life.
He had a great heart to forgive his enemies. He did not have the attitude of ‘tit for tat’. He rightly remarked, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”
After assuming as the President of South Africa, he accommodated whites who practiced ‘apartheid’ until then with a great heart. He carried all sections of people along with him with a kind heart. He rightly said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with him. Then he becomes your partner.” He was a continuous learner who inspired many leaders globally including the present American President, Barack Obama.
Nelson Mandela was a real hero, not a reel hero. Hence, people admired him globally. Reel heroes are reel icons while Nelson is a real international icon who put up trials and tribulations during his lifetime that earned him international acclaim. His legacy to the world is obvious from his quote, “On my last day, I want to know that those who remain behind will say: The man who lies here has done his duty for his country and his people.” Hence, let us emulate leadership lessons for this legend to excel as great leaders to make a difference to the world.
“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” Nelson Mandela.
Prof. M.S. Rao
International Leadership Guru
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