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Leading the Dance

Posted by Steve Read on February 3, 2014

I’ve not commented on the death of Nelson Mandela.  Now the noise about the great man has died down, I thought I would offer a couple of thoughts on what made him a great leader.  And I believe he truly was.

I’ve mentioned it before - on every leadership programme, when we ask people to name the ‘great’ leaders, the same names come up.  Churchill, Gandhi, Thatcher (no dialogue will be entered into – opinions vary), and of course Mandela.  Then there is a debate: Churchill was great, or he was an arrogant drunkard.  He certainly had strong opinions, and clashed with another of the ‘greats’ – Gandhi.  In 1930 he declared that ‘that Gandhi-ism and everything it stands for will have to be grappled with and crushed’.  And Gandhi said of Gandhi-ism “There is no such thing as ‘Gandhi-ism’, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills’.  So there you go.  Churchill was great in many ways, and led the country through a war.  Gandhi toppled the British Empire and starred in a film.

Now, to Mr Mandela… He was a great leader because:

  • He demonstrated humility:  "One of the most difficult things is not to change society -- but to change yourself," he said in 1999.
  • He realised the value of learning from others, and from experience: "It is possible that if I had not gone to jail and been able to read and listen to the stories of many people. ... I might not have learned these things," he said after his release from prison.
  • He wasn’t trying to ‘win’ a battle, but fulfil an ideal: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Nelson Mandela speaking in court, 20 April 1964.
  • He knew when to step down.
  • He was a great dancer, and wore very pretty shirts.

His name was Rolihlahla Mandela.  He was named Nelson at primary school by his school teacher Miss Mdingane.  If you want to know how to pronounce Rolihlahla, look here. http://bit.ly/196C99K

My point?  More leaders should think about the example they set for others.

And wear pretty shirts.

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