Nelson Mandela Leadership Profile

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was the first black President of South Africa and was an instrumental figure in ending apartheid. After his term as president, Nelson Mandela went on to become an advocate for social and human rights organizations.

A Short Biography

Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo, a small village in South Africa. He was the first in his family to attend school and it was there that his English teacher gave him the name ‘Nelson’.

His involvement in politics started when the National Party, which supported the apartheid policy of racial segregation, won the elections. Mandela joined the African National Congress party and began actively campaigning against the National Party’s policies using nonviolent methods, as inspired by Mahatma Gandhi.

However, as time went on and he was no closer to ending apartheid, he changed his philosophy and began organizing more guerrilla warfare-like sabotage tactics to further his cause. After being on the run for 17 months, Mandela was finally captured and imprisoned in 1962. His imprisonment lasted 27 years.

In the late 1980s, there was mounting pressure from the international and local community for the South African government to release Mandela. He was finally released on February 11th, 1990.

South Africa’s first multiracial elections, in which full enfranchisement was granted, were held on April 27th, 1994. Mandela’s party won the election and he became the first black president of South Africa. As president, Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.

Mandela retired from the presidency in June 1999 and devoted himself to social activism.

On December 5th 2013, Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. Tributes from all over the world poured in. U.S. President Barack Obama said that Mandela had achieved more than could be expected of any man, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “a great light had gone out of this world”.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for “for [his] work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”

Awards and Honours

  1. Nobel Peace Prize 1993
  2. Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award
  3. Honorary citizen of Belgrade, Serbia
  4. Listed as one of the 100 most influential people of 2004 by Time magazine
  5. and over a 100 more…

Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

1. Have a vision that is for the greater good

Mandela envisioned a South Africa without apartheid, where every man would be free and equal in the eyes of the nation. It was this vision that sustained him through his darkest days in prison.

We’re often taught that wanting success means wanting a big house, a fancy car and a luxurious lifestyle. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when the going gets tough, you’ll give up easily because the desire for material possessions won’t be strong enough to sustain you.

However, if your vision is to have a positive impact on the world, you can draw on that to persevere, even when faced with the toughest challenges.

2. You need to fight for your vision

Your journey to achieving your vision won’t be a walk in the park. You’re going to face many obstacles along the way and individuals who oppose your progress. Before Mandela successfully abolished apartheid in South Africa, he faced opposition from individuals and organizations all over the world. During the early years of his anti-apartheid movement, he was imprisoned and declared a terrorist by the United States.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison before he was elected President of South Africa. Even faced with such a huge setback, he never gave up on his vision.

You will face setbacks in your life too. Don’t give up and keep pressing on. Do not get discouraged at the first obstacle! Fight for what you believe in, and remember your purpose every time you feel like giving up.

No matter how ideal your vision, it means change for some people. Not everyone is willing to change because it is uncomfortable and sometimes outright painful. Don’t expect everyone to rally behind you. Have conviction in your goals and stay committed to them. Your steadfastness will influence and inspire others to join you over time.

3. Leadership is not tied to a position

Mandela is a great example of how leadership is not tied to a position. Winning the South African presidency formalized his position as a leader and enlarged the scope of his influence and impact. However, Mandela held a considerable amount of influence even before his presidency, and continued to use his political and social capital after he retired.

His ability to unite people and galvanize support for the abolishment of the apartheid, even while he was imprisoned, shows that leadership can thrive without formal authority. After he retired from his presidency, Mandela continued to use his influence in a positive way through supporting social causes.

You don’t need a formal title to display leadership qualities. Being a leader is about having the capability to influence and motivate others to move towards a goal, and this can be done at any level. Regardless of whether you are currently leading a team, cultivate your skills and look for opportunities to showcase your leadership potential when working with others. Someone will notice the positive impact you’re having on the organization!

Books about Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is a name people associate with heroism, fighting against racism, and spiritual leadership. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela is the book which inspired the successful motion picture with the same name, and brings us closer to one of the greatest people to have walked the Earth.

Conversations with Myself

The remarkable life of Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most prominent and inspiring figures, is now available for exploration in a highly praised book by Mandela himself; titled Conversations with Myself, and with a foreword by Barack Obama.

Nelson Mandela

Feast your eyes on the astonishing work of award-winning author and illustrator Kadir Nelson as he recounts the life of Nelson Mandela in mesmerizing illustrations and touching free verse.

Quotes from Nelson Mandela

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

“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.”

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

“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.”

“We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Nelson Mandela Leadership Video

This is a video by Nelson Mandela on one of his main social work initiatives: Make Poverty History. Nelson Mandela was very active in humanitarian causes after his retirement from politics.

Other Links

Wikipedia: A highly detailed account of Nelson Mandela’s life
Nelson The Official Site for Nelson Mandela


More Political Leader Profiles

For leadership profiles of other famous Political leaders, including George Washington, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr, check out our Political Leadership Profiles section.

Also check out our Leadership Profiles book series. In each book, we study 10 influential leaders in Business, Military, Politics and Sports.


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