Archive for December, 2013

Mandela’s Virtues

December 20, 2013


For nearly 30 years, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for sabotage and promoting revolution.  And, at 71 years old, in barely just ten years of activity, Mandela secured a peaceful launch of a democratic South Africa.

The long, useful life of Mandela has given us an important leadership example. Described by many as a complex man, some of his attributes certainly warrant cultivation. Here, I note three important ones:

Tenacious. Surviving nearly three decades of prison is only partial evidence of this virtue. After 20 years, the government offered Mandela freedom if he’d renounce violence. He declined.  Mandela also chose to “pivot” or modify strategies to ensure an intended outcome. Initially, a staunch believer in non-violence, he reluctantly modified this perspective to include sabotage (without bloodshed) and, eventually, guerilla warfare because it was the only option to be effective. Mandela’s determination meant he was wholly committed to planned results.

Humble. Mandela endeared his prisoner peers and the wardens by refusing privilege. Until others had the treatment he was offered, he declined. He did not expect or seek individual reward. This maturity is valuable evidence of authenticity. Mandela was embarrassed by attention. As a descendent of royalty, he used his traditional name Mandiba, but with no cult of personality. He said, “I should like to be remembered as an ordinary South African.”

Reconciler. Avoiding vengeance, Mandela chose the more powerful strategies of negotiation, mediation and compromise to assure peace. He acted as a midwife and guide for hope, democracy and a nation built on the rule of law.  Mandela understood moral authority. He used the power of enduring values to support South Africa’s rebirth.

One can expect tributes, analyses and editorials about Nelson Mandela for months, indeed years, to come. His heroic example has delivered vital changes. It is a sharp contrast to the common plays of corruption, infighting and partisanship. One principled person made a great difference.

As 2014 starts, consider what could be in the new year? Not long ago, many loathed Mandela. Most had interests to protect and only a few could see the vision he offered. As the world honors him, it’s a reminder that we need champions for change with worthy attributes.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed.D. is chief strategy officer and partner in Phillips Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems and social change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See:

%d bloggers like this: