Embracing the Leadership Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Nelson Mandela has come to the end of his long walk to freedom. He joins some of the greatest leaders in history – Lincoln, King, Gandhi, Gorbachev, Kennedy, and the Dalai Lama – as a man who dedicated his life to unity, equality, and creating a world that is guided by compassion, tolerance, and justice. 

Hailing from South Africa, Mandela lived by the philosophy of “Ubuntu,” which has several translations, including “I am because of you,” and “human kindness.” The premise behind Ubuntu is that all people live in a collective society, where our own well-being is deeply tied to the well-being of others. 

I came across a TED Talk given by Boyd Varty, a man who knew Mandela when he was a boy in South Africa. Varty shared that living and leading under the credo of Ubuntu inspires people to find “animated, empathetic action in every moment.” When I first watched this TED Talk, I replayed this phrase many times to think about the significance of this message, from a leadership perspective. As leaders, if we can raise our consciousness of all of our decisions and interactions, how much more impactful could we be?

Mandela’s passing provides us the opportunity to examine our own leadership traits. I’ve identified 8 traits that I believe defined Mandela’s life and leadership. These are traits that I have always tried to carry through my 20 years of entrepreneurship, and it’s not been easy. Mandela has inspired me to try harder; I hope he inspires you too. 

Character.  “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  

Compassion. “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 than its opposite.”

Commitment to the Cause. “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

Courage. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Conviction. “There is no passion to be found playing small-in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Connection. “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”  

Resilience. “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

Forgiveness. “Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.”

Especially as we move into 2014, this is a perfect time to ask:

  1. What would the world be like if we all lived and led in this manner? 
  2. What would your world be like if you lived and led in this manner? 
  3. If you were to die tomorrow, what legacy of leadership would you leave?

Here is the link to Varty’s talk, which provides a beautiful glimpse into the interconnectedness between people and nature in South Africa, and how Ubuntu shows up in their daily lives.

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