Leadership / Management

Lessons in leadership from Nelson Mandela


Photo by Ben Hanbury

Something doesn't feel quite right about this post. Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela? It's like asking Albert Einstein for help with your physics homework. The teacher is way overqualified for the task at hand.

Still, these tips -- and the source itself -- are simply too good to pass up. They were compiled for Time magazine by Richard Stengel, who spent two years with Mandela in the 1990s working on the book Long Walk to Freedom. These "8 Lessons of Leadership," writes Stengel, "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."

  1. Courage is not the absence of fear. It's inspiring others to move beyond it.
  2. Lead from the front, but don't leave your base behind.
  3. Lead from the back -- and let others believe they are in front.
  4. Know your enemy -- and learn his favorite sport.
  5. Keep your friends close -- and your rivals even closer.
  6. Appearances matter -- and remember to smile.
  7. Nothing is black or white.
  8. Quitting is leading, too.

Read more about each of these lessons in Stengel's article.

Still, Bruce Marcus is wondering why there is so much advice and so little wisdom about leadership these days. In "I'll Follow You Anywhere ... When You Learn How To Lead Me There," Marcus offers a guess.

"The simple definitions of (leadership) are so elusive that none really covers it," Marcus writes. "It’s almost metaphysical. ... We define things, I think, to better understand them. But in the case of leadership, we try to define the subject in order to learn how to become better leaders. I’m not sure that it works that way, if only because the qualities of leadership are so amorphous as to defy easy access to it."

That doesn't stop Marcus from offering his own definition. Read it here, then tell us: What do you think is the most important leadership quality?


Bill Sheridan