Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential leaders of his time. Even from within the confines of a prison cell, he led his fellow countrymen with finesse and skill not found often throughout history. He did this all with a style that included a ready smile, a sense of humor, and, most often, peaceful methods. The leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela have been admired by many who followed him, including those who he opposed. What skills did this great leader use to create such monumental changes in his lifetime, changes that have continued long after his passing? Let’s take a look.
Nelson Mandela knew that a person was the sum of both their knowledge and background. Only by knowing a person’s background can you understand their current mindset and why they do things the way they do. By using your skills at perception, you have more information to help an individual play to their strengths. Everyone has a position where they can excel. It is up to a true leader to gain enough knowledge to find that position.
If a leader can’t be passionate about his cause, he can’t inspire passion in others. A true leader is willing to give their all for a cause they believe in. Nelson Mandela knew the possibilities of prison. He understood that his fight could lead to death. Yet, he fought with every ounce of energy he had. This passion is catching. The energy becomes part of all those you lead. Passion isn’t something that can be taught. Passion comes from within and blankets all that comes into contact with the source of that passion, in this case, a leader who truly feels it.
A true leader does not lack fear. Nelson Mandela did not go into situations without caution. He wasn’t blind to the dangers he and his followers were facing. He was courageous. True courage is knowing there is danger. Courage is being scared but still being willing to take the risk. Courage uses fear to add common sense to a situation. You prepare for possible problems, but you don’t avoid the situation because of what may happen. A true leader takes control of their fear and does not allow the fear to control them and their actions.
A true leader does not give up when things become difficult. Sometimes victory doesn’t happen when you want it to. You need to set goals that lead you to the final outcome you seek and then keep your eyes on that final goal, adjusting minor goals as you go along. Nelson Mandela met many failures, but he kept going. He never felt that the end goal was out of reach. When he came upon a mountain he couldn’t climb or go around, he found the energy to find a way to tunnel through.
One of the leadership skills of Nelson Mandela can be summed up in words he often spoke, “Lead from the back.” To be an effective leader, you need to be able to inspire others to also take the lead. This inspiration is created by giving others the chance to believe in their own abilities. A true leader does not attempt to do everything on their own. They are confident enough in the abilities of those they lead to do what is necessary. This confidence inspires those people to do their best and believe in their abilities.
Nelson Mandela was constantly learning. He believed that nobody can ever possibly know everything, and he also believed that everyone you meet has something they can teach you. A leader needs to understand that they are not perfect and that others can help them improve. On the other hand, a leader does not hold onto their own knowledge like it is a treasure they only deserve. They are willing to share their knowledge with others to help their followers grow also.
Even though some of the changes made by Nelson Mandela involved violence, he was a man of peace. A true leader will use the most peaceful methods available to get the results they desire. They will strive for cooperation, understanding, and a solution that can benefit everyone involved. Leading with fear is never the option. Peaceful methods inspire dedication, trust, and loyalty. In this way, everyone feels respected, and duty is done from a place of willingness, not compliance, due to fear of consequences.
Negative thinking is a pitfall that many leaders fall into when things don’t happen as they want or on a timeline they have designed. Nelson Mandela taught that remaining positive helped keep you going when things looked dismal. He never lost faith in the fact that his goal was achievable and this kept others believing in that goal. A leader needs to believe so whole-heartedly that their goal can be reached that they avoid being brought down by those who ridicule their efforts or tell them it is time to give up. This positive outlook allows a leader to keep inspiring others.
One of the leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela that surprised many people was how humble the man was. He may have been the hero to many, yet there always seemed to be a genuine surprise when he was given so much credit. An effective leader knows they don’t succeed alone. It takes the many people who follow and lend their support, knowledge, and energy that contribute to the final success. Leadership is best achieved when the leader understands they are not alone. Simply being in the lead position does not place them above the rest who are also working toward the cause. Nelson Mandela was the first one to acknowledge the importance of each person he came into contact with.
Success does not happen overnight. Nelson Mandela modeled patience in his leadership. Success is rarely a straight line. It can veer to the left or right of the goal. It can move backward just when you most need it to leap forward. Patience is important in order to main a positive outlook, determination, and endurance. Mandela understood that success achieved over time would last longer because patience allowed the success to be built on a strong foundation.
A leader has to be willing to make decisions and take actions even if they may not be the popular choice. Mandela was basically a man of peace, and he encouraged those he led to be the same. Yet, there were times when there was no way to avoid a violent encounter. He did not like those times, but he did what needed to be done in order to further his mission. No leader will ever be agreed with all the time. They can’t back down every time a decision is questioned or disagreed with. It is important for a leader to listen to all opinions expressed on a subject, but in the end, the leader must decide which of these opinions are ones that factor into the end decision or not.
Empathy involves being able to see things from a different point of view. Nelson Mandela was willing to listen to many different viewpoints. He attempted to understand why those positions existed. Understanding does not mean you have to agree. Being empathetic aids in possibly helping others understand where you are coming from, and it also helps you determine if your view may need some adjusting. Sometimes it does, but at other times it doesn’t. Without empathy, however, you will never know.
This may well be one of the most important leadership qualities of Nelson Mandela. Without the ability to communicate well, a leader can’t fully make his goals understandable. They need to be able to get across their passion, their reasoning, their plans in a way that others can understand and follow. An excellent communicator needs to have many of the previous skills. They must be empathetic, passionate, and patient. They must be willing to learn and able to teach. An excellent communicator must also be an excellent listener. They must hear not only what is said but also what is not said. They must know how to speak with people from many backgrounds in a way that allows those people to feel respected, heard, and understood. It is this lack of communication skills that has caused many worthy goals to be lost.