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The Secrets of Leadership of Nelson Mandela

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This paper will illustrate the life one of the greatest leaders who ever lived, Nelson Mandela. Also it will describe in detail the strategic approach and his eight lessons of leadership he used to accomplish his political goals and emerge as the first black president of South Africa. Following, explain how his strategic approach relates to the current course material of MBA/520. Lastly, it will express the views held by the author on Mandelas leadership approach.

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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. (www.anc.org) The statement above are the famous words expressed by Nelson Mandela during his trial where he was defending himself against accusations of trying to overthrow the South African government. Nelson Mandela is viewed as a leader who believes in democracy and has achieved success by using a strategic perspective approach for problem solving. To completely understand the man who is Nelson Mandela, it is necessary to look at his past starting from birth.

One can better grasp the essence of the leader he has become. Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the royal family of the Thembu on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, a village near Mthatha in the Transkei. He was born to the proud parents of Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Henry Mgadla Mandela. His father held the esteemed position as the principal counselor to the Acting Paramount Chief of the Thembu tribe both by blood and custom. Life did not remain comfortable for Mandela and his mother for very long. His father caused their family to lose the privilege given to the royals and Mandela and his mother had to move to a village called Qunu, where children and mothers lived. Being born into royalty and accustomed to certain privileges made it difficult in the begining for Mandela to adjust to his new life.

Following his fathers passing in 1927, Mandela was sent to live with his guardian Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the Paramount Chief, to be groomed to assume high office. Hearing the elders stories of his ancestors valor during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people. (nelsonmandela.org) Mandela received his primary education at a local mission school where he was given the first name by which he is known today, Nelson. The teacher apparently chose English names at random for each unsuspecting child in her class. Subsequent his education continued at the Clarkebury Boarding Institute for his Junior Certificate and then to Healdtown, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute, where he matriculated. He enrolled for his BA of Arts at the the University College of Fort Hare for the Bachelor of Arts Degree where he was elected onto the Students Representative Council. (nelsonmandela.org)

Mandela wanted to escape the custom of arranged marriages; he and his cousin Justice ran away to Johannesburg. For a short duration he worked as a mine policeman before doing his articles at Lazar Sidelskys Law Firm. Completing his BA through the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 1942, he commenced study for his LLB shortly afterwards (though he left the University of the Witwatersrand without graduating in 1948). He entered politics in earnest while studying, and joined the African National Congress in 1943. (Brink 1998) Mandela has been alive for almost a full century; he celebrated his 90th birthday on July 18, 2008. As he celebrates being alive for the past nine decades, Nelson Mandela has made enough trouble for several lifetimes. He liberated a country from a system of violent prejudice and helped unite white and black oppressor and oppressed, in a way that had never been done before. (Stengel, 2008) With his long and fulfilled life comes unsurpassed knowledge of an effective leader.

Mandela has revealed his eight lessons of leadership in an interview with Richard Stengel of TIME magazine. Stengel wanted to talk to Mandela about leadership; he believes that Mandela is the closest thing the world has to saint, although Mandela believes he is just a regular person. As part of his many accomplishments, Mandela overthrew apartheid in South Africa and built a non-segregated democratic country. He was able to realize this historical accomplishment by understanding specifically when and how to maneuver between his many roles as a warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman. Mandela believed that when solving a problem, he approached it not just with principles but also tactics. He is a master tactician (Stengel 2008) His eight lessons of leadership are practical and as history is being made in America with the presidential campaign, much can be learned by his democratic leadership style. Stengel believes that his eight lessons are calibrated to cause the best kind of trouble; the trouble that forces us to ask how we can make the world a better place. His first lesson teaches us that courage is not is not the absence of fear; courage is inspiring others to move beyond their fears.

This lesson is put to the test during his presidential election in his address to his Zulu supporters. According to the article in the TIME magazine in 1994, during the presidential election campaign, Mandela needed to address his Zulu supporters in the killing fields of Natal. He boarded a small plane, and set off on his campaign; less than half an hour before his plane landed, he experienced engine trouble. The people on the plane began to panic except Mandela who kept a calm and serene demeanor. When his companions observed his reaction, they too began to settle down. The pilot succeeded in landing the plane and passengers safely to the airport. As Mandela climbed into his vehicle that would take him to his destination, he told Stengel that he was absolutely petrified during the incident that occurred on the plane. During his time underground and the Rivonia trial where he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, Mandela admits that he was often afraid. He admitted that the absent of fear in such situations would be irrational.

He told Sengel during his interview that I cant pretend that Im brave and that I can beat the whole world, but as a leader, you cannot let people know, you must put up a front. (Sengel 2008) That is exactly what he had done throughout his life, by pretending to act fearless; he motivated others to do the same. This act of absolute courage without fear was especially demonstrated while he was in prison on Robben Island. Prisoners who were there for the duration of his imprisonment said Mandela displayed courage and pride as he walked across the courtyard, and that alone was enough to keep up their spirits for days. He exemplified a model leader which gave him strength to overcome his own fears. Lesson number two states, lead from the front-but dont leave your base behind. In 1985, while still in prison, Mandela suffered from an enlarged prostate that required surgery. Upon his return to prison, he was separated from his colleagues and comrades for the first time in 21 years.

As a result of this separation the prisoners protested, but as his friend Ahmed Kathrada remembers, his reply to them was wait a minute chaps, some good may come out of this. (Stengel 2208) His words were proven to be factual, some good did come out this unfortunate situation. While separated from the other prisoners, Mandela on his accord, managed to initiate negotiations with the government of South Africa in 1985. Many people felt he had lost his good senses, since something of this caliber had never been done before. Prisoners had no right to negotiate. Mandela attempt at negotiation was thought to be ludicrous since he was sentenced to life prison for advocating an armed insurgency against the government. Despite the popular belief that he was making a mistake, Mandela came to the conclusion that it was the precise time to begin talk of negotiation with his oppressors. Many of his supporters including Cyril Ramaphosa, then the powerful leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, felt that he was betraying everything they had accomplished.

Even his fellow prison mates felt he was selling out. He managed to persuade his supporters that his action was the correct course that must be taken. After explaining to his comrades what he was planning, they reluctantly agreed to his strategic plan. Take your support base along with you, says Ramaphosa, who was secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC) and is now a business mongul. Once you arrive at the beachhead, then you allow the people to move on. Hes not a bubblegum leader- chew it now and throw it away. (Stengel 2008) According to Mandela, his earlier refusal to negotiate was about tactics, not principles. He always made that distinction throughout his decisions as a president and in his personal life. His third lesson in leadership is to lead from behind and let others think they are in front. Mandela loved to reminisce about his cattle herding days as a boy. He would say that the only way he could lead his cattle was from behind. He learned this lesson from his mentor and guardian Jongintaba, the tribal king.

When the king requested meetings of his court, he would sit them at a round table and let them discuss the agenda. Only after everyone had spoken, would the king begin to speak. The chiefs job, Mandela said, was not to tell the people what to do but to form a consensus. Mandelas advice is not to enter the debate prematurely. Mandela carried that lesson along with and demonstrated its effectiveness during his time as president. Mandela used to hold meeting with his cabinet in his home; he had the members gathered at his dining room table or in a circle in his driveway. When his colleagues would request that he make decisions more rapidly and to become more radical, Mandela would merely listen. When he finished listening to everyone points of view, he would slowly and systematically recapitulate everyones opinion and then unfold his own thoughts. While unraveling his plans he would subtly steer the decision in the direction he intended without imposing it.

He said the trick to leadership was to allow yourself to also be led. It is wise he said to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea. (Stengel 2008) His fourth lesson in leadership is to know your enemy and learn about his favorite sport. Since the 1960s, Mandela began studying Afrikaans, known as the language of the Caucasian South Africans who created apartheid. He felt it was essential to speak their language to better understand their worldview. He understood that one day he would be interacting with them, either in negotiation or combat. His ambition to speak their language was a two part strategy. By learning his adversarys language he would be able to discover their strengths and weaknesses, thereby allowing him to formulate tactics accordingly. In addition he would be ingratiating himself with his oppressors. He did not just stop at learning their language; he also studied their history and familiarized himself with their beloved sport called rugby. He figured a good way to strike up conversation and camaraderie was to compare notes on teams and players. Mandela understood that just as black deeply considered themselves to be Africans, so did the white Afrikaans of South Africa.

They too were a product of racism suffered at the hands of the British government and English settlers. To demonstrate his willingness to understand his enemies, Mandela willingly helped the warders while in prison with their legal problems. They were less educated and worldly then he was, and his education as a lawyer proved yet again to be a valuable asset. The warders were mystified that a black man was willing to help them. These warders were the most merciless and vicious of the apartheid regime. Mandela came to the realization that even the worst and ruthless are capable of negotiation. In his fifth lesson, Mandela states advises that one should keep their friends close, but their rivals even closer. Although it sounds trivial, Mandela proved this lesson to be valuable. He believed that by keeping his enemies within his circle of influence he was able to better control them because they were more dangerous when they were left on their own.

When he was released from prison, he befriended many of his warders and placed leaders that had kept him behind bars in his cabinet. Although Mandela valued loyalty, he was never obsessed with it. He said people act in their own interest, it is a simple fact of human nature, not a flaw or defect. (Stengel, 2008) Lesson number six teaches us that appearance matter and remember to smile. Mandela recognized the historical correlation between leadership and physical appearance. He believed that size and strength are derived more from our DNA than any leadership manual. He used his tall physique to dominate any room he entered, and used it to advance his cause. Mandela was always concerned about dressing appropriately for his position in government. In addition to looking the part, he also understood the effects symbols had on his people. Because he was never a praiseworthy public speaker, when he was on a platform, he would always do the toyi-toyi, the township dance that was an emblem of struggle for his people. (Stengel, 2008)

Mandela often displayed his dazzling smile which would capture his audience. For white South Africans, his smile symbolized his lack of bitterness, and implied that he understood them. On the other hand, it had a totally different meaning to his black people; his smile meant that he was a strong and happy warrior who would triumph against all odds. It is reasonable to conclude that he was bitter; however, he realized the importance of projecting the exact opposite sentiment. His seventh lesson indicates that nothing is black or white. Mandelas firm belief is decisions are never either/or. Instead, decisions are of a complex nature and there always exist competing factors. He is comfortable with contradiction. As a politician, he was a pragmatist who saw the world as infinitely nuanced. (Stengel 2008) America had once branded Mandela as a terrorist, during that time he received help from Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro. Presently, when he is asked about his two supporters, he merely states that Americans tend to see things in black and white. When making decisions, he clearly defined what end results he wanted to accomplish and the most practical way to achieve it.

Lesson eight states quitting is leading too! In 1993 Mandela asked Stengel if he knew of any country where the voting age was under 18. Stengel did some research and informed him that Indonesia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, and Iran allowed voters under 18 to participate in governmental elections. With this new information, Mandela went on South African television to propose the idea of lowering the voting age to 14 years old; unfortunately he had very few supporters. He accepted his defeat with humility and did not spend any time sulking. Acknowledging when to abandon a failed idea or decision is often the most difficult decision a leader has to make. Mandelas greatest legacy in his presidential era was perhaps the way he chose to exit from it. He could very well have declared himself president for life, many would have supported him. However, he wanted to set an example to the South African nation and the rest of the continent. There have been very few democratically elected presidents who had stood down from office of their accord.

Mandela understands that it is important for leaders to lead by what they chose not to do, as much as they what they do. Mandelas success can be attributed to his democratic style of leadership and being a master tactician. His eight lessons give insight on how to effectively lead a country and can also be used to successfully manage an organization. Although each lesson seems simple enough, when combined together, they make up the recipe for a successful leader. His eight lessons are directly related to the core objectives of Transformational Leadership class. Problem solving, effective decision making, ethics, tactics were all incorporated in his lessons. His eight secret to leadership not only explicate how to effectively lead, but also promotes integrity and ethics. His fight against apartheid was first and foremost an ethical stand against a government who chastised his own people because of the color of their skin. His democratic approach to South Africa, where racisms and segregation was rampant, has given birth to a new nation. Nelson Mandela continues to be an inspiration to all who believe in the value of human rights and human dignity, and the power of democracy. (Rice, 2008)

I am privileged to have lived in the era of Mandelas historical moment of becoming the first black South African president. It is my belief that his success is a direct result of his ability to solve problems effectively. He realized that the attributes of a true leader is to know when to lead and when to let others think they are leading. The most remarkable characteristic of Mandela perhaps is his ability to smile and befriend his adversaries. As a leader he understood the importance of surrounding himself with people of influence despite his personal feelings about them. The lesson that had a major impact on me is lesson seven, nothing is black and white. When trying to solve problems, it would be easier to arrive at a decision if everything was as straightforward as they appear. Mandela, pointed out decision making is complex, and to look for a simple explanation is the bias of the human brain. While he was against apartheid, he knew that the causes of apartheid were complex.

His secrets to leadership will be a point of reference for me as I continue to strive to become a successful leader. Ultimately, the key to understanding Mandela as a successful leader is the 27 years he spent in prison. Although his freedom was taken away, his ability to think and strategize remained. His patience, the wisdom, the visionary quality Mandela brought to his struggle, and above all the moral integrity with which he set about to unify a divided people, resulted in the country’s first democratic elections and his selection as President. (Brink, 1998) Mandela went into prison headstrong and stubborn and emerged a balanced and disciplined leader. After 90 years, Mandelas vision still lives on, and the potential to move toward a new age still holds true today as did during his struggle.

Brink, Andre (1998). The Shape of the Future. Retrieved on July 18, 2008 from http://www.time.com/time/time100/leaders/profile/mandela4.html Nelson Mandela Organization (2008) Retrieved on July 18, 2008 from http://www.nelsonmandela.org/index.php American Association of Healers (2008). Nelson Mandelas Biography. Retrieved on July 18, 2008 from http://www.americanassociationofhealers.com/nelson_mandela’s_biography.htm African National Council (2008) Profile of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Retrieved on July 18, 2008 from http://www.anc.org.za/people/mandela.html Secretary Rice, Condoleezza (2008). Statement on Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday. Retrieved on July 18, 2008 from http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2008/07/107198.htm Stengel, Richard (2008). The Secrets of Leadership. Time Magazine July 21, 2008, Time Inc. New York.

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