Madiba Nelson Mandela Is Commonly Hailed Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1540 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Leadership


Nelson Mandela is commonly hailed as one of the great leaders of the 20th century. As a revolutionary, he became the inspirational leader of the African National Congress, gathering disparate interests within the Congress to rally around a common cause, the defeat of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. As the leader of the free South Africa, he set about the course of reconciliation and nation-building that set the country on its positive path. This was an entirely different task compared with his leadership as a revolutionary, yet he was able to handle it effectively, and start South Africa down the right path, rather than a path of disintegration. This paper aims to understand leadership better by studying Nelson Mandela's leadership. There are a lot of lessons that can learned by applying leadership theories to Mandela's leadership style.

Born to Lead?

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There are a number of different leadership theories, since the concept is amorphous enough that any number of different ideas look good, and none of them look wrong. For centuries, it was felt that leadership was a personality trait with which you were born. This led to the idea that leadership should be hereditary. People were either born leaders or they were not, and nothing could change that. The truth is probably a combination of personality traits and learning by osmosis -- when one is surrounded from birth by leaders, they will learn a lot of about leadership, should they choose. Indeed, many people who inherited leadership positions proved ineffective leaders, calling into question the notion that one could simply be born leader. This view remains popular today, even though many who study leadership discount it (Tamburri, 2014). This is actually the framework by which Mandela came to a position of prominence.

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He was actually born into the Thembu royal family of the Xhosa tribe, meaning that he did inherit a certain leadership status, and would have been surrounded by leaders for most of his life, enabling him to learn about leadership (Adams, 2013). He received his undergraduate education at a predominantly black university pre-Apartheid before receiving a law degree at a mixed institution. During this time, he met many others who would go on to become leaders within the ANC. Rather than his birthright making him a great leader, it is more likely that it simply gave Mandela the tools and opportunity to emerge as one of the key leaders in the African resistance movements once the Apartheid regime was implemented.

Transformational Leadership

Leadership theories that emerged more in the 20th century were based on the idea that leadership is something that can be taught. There are still different styles of leadership, however. One such concept of leadership is the transactional-transformational dichotomy. This holds that there are two main types of leaders -- those who are good at transactions and those who inspired, are visionary, and can transform an organization (Manktelow, 2014). The traits of a transformational leader are having a broad vision, being able to inspire others to pursue that vision and being able to deliver a high level of motivation to followers. Mandela played this role within the context of both the ANC and post-Apartheid South Africa. He was quite clearly a transformational leader, and indeed it was others within the ANC who were credited with ensuring its effective functioning. This was obviously important once Mandela became imprisoned, as he was at that point unable to affect the functional operation of the ANC, but still remained a strong source of inspiration to the group's members, to the extent that he was considered dangerous by the Apartheid regime. Yet, they feared his inspirational powers that they hesitated to make him a martyr, and he ended up spending most of his time on Robben Island in a private cottage rather than the common cell where he started his time there. The regime did not want anything to happen to Mandela because of the social unrest it would have caused in the country.

Post-Apartheid, Mandela was called upon to lead South Africa. Again, here, he showed his skills as a transformational leader. He was too old at the point, and had no experience with bureaucracy -- his role was never going to be a transactional leader who kept the trains running and the lights on. His role was to forge a new vision for South Africa as the "rainbow nation" and this is exactly what he did. In a situation where there could have been widespread civil unrest, Mandela instead called for peace, reconciliation and for South Africa's people to work together to build their country anew.

The post-Apartheid era was doubtless the greatest example of Mandela's leadership. He applied his leadership philosophy to leading the entire nation: "It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur." He argues with this philosophy that when leadership empowers others it becomes more powerful (Williams, 2013). As the post-Apartheid leader, he laid out the framework and vision for the country, but he allowed the people of South Africa to build on that. This gave them power, and the country has been, more or less, been able to live on in his image after he left the leadership role. Now that he is gone, South Africa still looks to his leadership as a source of inspiration for what the country can become.


A key element of Mandela's leadership was the combination of different types of authority. While he was born into royalty, and this gave him formal authority, Mandela cultivated a lot of informal authority. He was educated and that gave him some degree of informal authority, as a leader among Africans for certain but also as a trained lawyer he had respect among whites as well. But it was also the way that Mandela carried himself that allowed him to become a leader. As a revolutionary, he was not soft, but he also knew what his goals were. He knew what being arrested and imprisoned would mean. The way that Mandela responded to his challenges, by building coalitions, and inspiring others, rather than lashing out, earned him respect throughout many sectors of South African society.

Most revolutionaries aren't big on listening -- sociopaths like Guevara, Mao and Lenin all preferred to ram their ideology down people's throats with a gun barrel -- but Mandela exemplified a real leader, one who didn't need fear to win people to his cause. He led by example, and was willing to listen to others, incorporating him into his vision. This allowed Mandela to become leader of the entire country upon his release, not just a freed black leader, but a leader for all South Africans. That is probably the most telling legacy of Mandela's leadership, is his ability to listen to others, to build coalitions, allowing all South Africans to move forward with his vision (Pearce, 2013). This allowed Mandela to cultivate a type of referential authority, because he positioned himself as a leader for all, as the person who best understood how to guide South Africa forward. It was not just a matter of the people looking to him, it was in how he looked to the people as well, to implement his vision.


A good leader is also one who does not waver from his objectives. In the face of struggle, it is necessary to have a high level of commitment. This especially true when the leader has a collaborative style like Mandela -- if you are going to unify disparate groups behind a vision, you need to demonstrate not only clarity of vision but determination to see that vision through no matter what the obstacles. For Mandela, his unwavering commitment to ending Apartheid is what allowed it… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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