Three Reasons Mandela Became a Giant

NelsonNelson Mandela has passed and the world has lost an incredible leader.  Over the past few days I have seen pictures of him with world leaders from across the globe.  There are photographs of him with the Pope,with Margaret Thatcher, with four different American Presidents, and countless other dignitaries.  I have seen editorial cartoons depicting him as the Moses of South Africa, the father to South Africa, as the Lincoln of South Africa, as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and even as a type of Neil Armstrong, a la “One small step for man…”  My favorite editorial cartoon is one from 1990 when he was released from his 27 year imprisonment.  It depicted Mandela entering into prison as a normal man in the first frame.  In the second frame, he emerged as a giant of a man.  Indeed, he was.  Indeed, he was.

Mandela’s life should inspire every leader.  In a day when there are far too many stories about failed leadership, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge some lessons from a great leader.  What made him such a giant?

  1. He was willing to suffer—He endured inhumane living conditions for almost three decades while he was in prison.  How easy it would have been for him to give up on his dream of the end of Apartheid.  Mandela suffered with his dream and for his dream, but he never gave up on that dream.  Most people would have.
  2. He was willing to forgive—If it would have been easy to give up, it would have been even easier to seek revenge.  However, it was his legacy to forgive and to seek reconciliation.  The movie Invictus, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa portrayed Mandela’s understanding of the importance of forgiveness.  If you did not see it, you should.  If you are a leader, sooner or later, you will have the chance to emulate Mandela’s stance on forgiveness, and when you do—you should!
  3. He was willing to grow—It’s been said that suffering will either make you bitter or better.   Obviously, it made Mandela better.  In at least one interview I saw, he even called his imprisonment “helpful.”  It gave him time to reflect and clarify his thoughts, he said.  I hope you never have to suffer as he did, but I hope that whatever you go through, you will grow through it, and that it will make you better not bitter.

Mandela’s cause was a just one, and like countless other great leaders, Mandela wasn’t afraid to “Challenge the Process.”  When a leader is willing to do that for a just cause, he/she leaves a legacy. That should inspire us all.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela. Rest in Peace.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

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