The Leadership Prowess of Nelson Mandela


Even after his death, Nelson Mandela is renowned internationally as a forward thinker, freedom fighter, and political leader. Mandela trod a steep and thorny way to success, but he managed to accomplish his overarching goals in the long run. Years of political struggle and persecution helped Mandela accustom himself to the rigors of life in South Africa and hardened his spirit. At first sight, it seems that education played a secondary role in Mandela’s political rise. However, the spirit of erudition insinuated into Mandela’s life in the early childhood and never left him. Under the banner of education, Mandela’s illiterate, albeit progressive, parents herded him from one school to another. Neither revolutionary activities nor imprisonment could douse Mandela’s enthusiasm to earn an academic degree; and after years’ lucubration, he got three university diplomas. His life of a wise and sagacious leader has been an inspiration for myriads of people around the world. The fact that Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 is a testament to his great leadership skills and an immeasurable contribution to the cause of peace and equality. The present proposal looks at the august person of Nelson Mandela and attempts to ascertain what leadership skills he possessed. All in all, Mandela’s inextinguishable desire to succeed academically combined with his involvement in the rich list of extracurricular activities make his person an appealing leader to me.

Leadership Research

As Laura Lorenzetti (2013) has put it, “Nelson Mandela will be remembered not only for his unrelenting pursuit of racial equality but also his fearless leadership”. Indeed, very few people dare impugn Mandela’s motives, meaning that he was the most sincere and doughty champion of his cause. No matter how people referred to Nelson, be it pejoratively as a subversive element and an agent provocateur, neutrally as a radical and a rabble-rouser, or approvingly as a firebrand and simply a great politician, they all recognized Mandela’s strong moral fiber and outstanding leadership skills. It is also interesting that Mandela was impervious to all the imprecations that malevolent persons hurled at him. Through this research I intend to answer the following questions about Mandela’s life and leadership skills:

  • What makes Mandela a subject of public admiration and impels people to emulate his greatness?
  • At what age did Nelson start to demonstrate interest in politics and what features did he possess that distinguished him from peers?
  • What was the role of education in Mandela’s inexorable ascent to the highest political position in South Africa?
  • What personality traits did Mandela possess that made him a successful leader?
  • What leadership skills did he have and how they evolved throughout Mandela’s life?
  • Is Mandela a role model worthy of emulation?

With a view to answering these questions, I will make use of a cascade of relevant literature, including articles in the mainstream magazines and newspapers and academic books. Among the most seminal biographies of Nelson Mandela are those written by Peter Limb (2008) and Rita Barnard (2014). Similarly, Martin Kalungu-Banda’s (2006) Leading like Madiba offers a comprehensive analysis of Mandela’s leadership prowess. Curiously enough, Mandela was a distinguished memoirist. In his shrewdly worded autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela (2008) portrays himself, with a notable lack of ostentation, as an indomitable fighter for racial equality in South Africa and a great moral leader. While doing the spadework for the paper, it has been established that there is a wealth of published research into Mandela’s life and leadership lessons that can be derived from it. By the same token, the Internet is replete with online analyses of Mandela’s leadership prowess. Thus, I will use all the sources I have located thus far for further research. It should also be noted that no perceptible problems have been encountered in the course of conducting the investigation. The only limitation of the existing literature on Mandela’s life is that it offers no criticism of his leadership abilities. Indeed, with the exception of a few critics, the authors are unequivocal in their belief that Mandela was a truly impressive leader. As McMahon (2004) has put it, “instead of growing old and irrelevant, Mandela grew into a myth” (p. 45). However, the effect of such limitation is negligible. No other problems are expected to rear their ugly heads in the course of doing the current research.

It would be logical to briefly summarize the findings of the present study. First of all, it is necessary to note that Mandela propelled himself to the top by sheer ability, rather than by backstage influence, as many other politicians of that time were wont to do. Starting from the early years of his childhood, Mandela demonstrated a great degree of diligence, patience and sedulity in everything he did. Likewise, Nelson’s calmness of temperament and determination carried him through many difficult situations. His parents were very pious and inculcated a strong love of God in Nelson, which helped the latter cope with many hardships in life.