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WHEN South Africa’s first black president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela died on Dec 5, 2013, the whole world marked his passing. But we still have much to learn aboutleadership from his legacy.

In this article, I use his name as an acronym for how he can inspire each of us to leadership greatness:


Nelson Mandela motivated thousands of people by sharing his vision for a united South Africa. Over many years, he underpinned this vision with simple, clear goals.

Do you have a vision that everyone in your team or organisation aspires to? Do you have clearly articulated goals that everyone understands and knows what part they play in making them a reality?


Sometimes, a task may seem impossible; however, you must aim high to achieve. For Mandela, uniting South Africa may have seemed like a huge and perhaps impossible task, but he stuck to his cause, at great personal cost. Take a moment to aim high and claim a vision that is scary, yet doable. Next, set realistic goals to underpin the success of that vision.


In every organisation, team or relationship, we must negotiate. Things never just go our way — sometimes we have to give and take in order to reach our goal.

Mandela was jailed for revolutionary activities on Robben Island for 27 years. During the time he was incarcerated, he led his people by passing secret messages to his team on the outside. He also negotiated protest moves with his supporters who wanted to take more drastic action.

Upon his release in 1990, Mandela negotiated with President F. W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections. In 1994, he led the African National Congress to victory, becoming South Africa’s first black president.

He never gave up. As a leader, you too must never give up and you must be willing to negotiate to secure the best outcome for your team or organisation.


Being a leader means you have to lead from the front. A great leader will lead by example, exhibiting the behaviours he wishes others to take up so that everyone in the team knows what to do and how to do it.

Leading by example is not easy. Mandela cracked rocks with a sledgehammer alongside his peers and simple village folk while in jail. His determination not to be subdued by his captors was visible for all to see.

How visible is your leadership style? Are your people willing to follow you to see your vision become reality?


Mandela was able to inspire his followers to take up the cause, even when they were horribly repressed by the apartheid regime. He generated excitement by recruiting the hearts and minds of his followers, and by telling stories about his vision of a free South Africa.

How do you generate excitement in your followers? Creating excitement around your vision or goals is a sure-fire way to get people enthused and involved.


In his younger days, Mandela studied hard and embraced learning. He qualified as a lawyer, but he never stopped learning throughout his career.

Learning is the key to leadership — always be open to new ideas and new ways to implement innovation or change within your organisation.

Mandela even learned lessons from his captors on Robben Island and shared his knowledge with his fellow prisoners. He learnt to cope effectively with adversity. Do you learn from your mistakes and when times are tough?


Finally, a great leader must take action. Mandela led his people to freedom by constant action and the implementation of his ideals and beliefs. Even when he became the leader of South Africa, he took daily action to bring the people together to strive to create a modern, unified nation.

Are you taking daily action to unite your people to come together to achieve your vision?

Follow in his footsteps

Take the time to ponder how you can be more like him in your leadership abilities. Craft a vision that will be shared by the people you lead, set realistic goals and then take daily action to make those goals a reality for you and your followers.