Across the world there are commemorations being held to celebrate the life and the legacy Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela was not only a great man but also a great leader to many in different aspects even outside of politics. I think we could all stand to be reminded that we have a responsibility to be a leader in our circles for human kindness and decency, for justice, for peace, and for change such as Nelson Mandela observed. I felt compelled to observe the leadership lessons of his legacy. Here are my reflections of leadership lessons.
- Forgiveness – Ask yourself, if after 27 years of imprisonment, isolated from the world, from your family, from your wife, from freedom even under an apartheid rule, could you forgive those who ruled this judgment against you? During this time, I’ve read that Mandela put himself in the shoes of his opposition. Doing so enabled him to realize their fears and perspective. Often we are so focused on our agenda that we don’t take time to consider the perspective of the other side. However, I wonder how much of the reflection was driven by his revelation that forgiveness was necessary for his soul and will to survive. Not forgiving is like an untreated cancer that prevents forward progress. Forgiveness is not a pass for the offender, but a liberator for offended.
- Visionary – Mandela realized long before many others, that South Africa was on the wrong side of history. Civil rights in the United States was breaking new ground, while South Africa was unrelenting in regards to apartheid. Mandela had the wherewithal to Stand UP for justice, to continue the fight to end racism, and to envision a world of freedom for Blacks in South Africa.
- Courage to Evolve – Many people will argue that he was a communist and terrorist. While he shifted from one of peace to rebel is a daunting time of his legacy, the bigger lesson is that he evolved and grew with time, age, and possibly the isolation. Leaders must learn to evolve their approach, particularly when the approach is divisive, dangerous and unbalanced. Consider how a man with many followers, who lead a rebel cause, had the fortitude and influence to shift his approach so drastically to achieve the goal. To be so gracious after many of his followers were likely still very angry at his prosecutors.
- Sacrifice – Mandela, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was prepared to die for the cause. I’m not advocating a willingness to die is required for a cause, but I do believe the appropriate regard to not waver is important to define the level of commitment needed to follow through.
Nelson Mandela’s life after prison is a great lesson in humility, resolve, and reflection. While he was unyielding on his core beliefs, he was a mastermind of understanding his opposition. He learned the language of his oppressors, which was pivotal to initiating effective conversations toward forward progress. These characteristics are of a great leader that many can learn from.