Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) The Embodiment of Great Leadership

December 9th 2013

A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

Coming out from hearing the joyous Vivaldi Gloria sung by the young  St John’s Choir Cambridge at the Royal Festival Hall last night, I stood and watched people place candles and flowers at the base of the sculpture of Nelson Mandela.  Such glorious choral music seemed a fitting tribute for a man who was revered by many as a great leader and whose dignity and composure captured the world.

On the way home, I scoured the papers to read how others described his leadership. Words such as humble, honest, warmth, passion, inspiration, true to his values, fair, sincere, heroic, optimistic, good humoured, generous of spirit and forgiveness were liberally used by everyone from the local South African housewife to the President of the United States. Our Mayor Boris Johnson with his usual eloquence said,

Londoners brought up in a city where the values of diversity and equality are celebrated not suppressed forged a unique bond with Mandela and the struggle he embodied. He was without doubt the pre-eminent statesman of his time”

There is much to learn from Nelson Mandela, just to walk in his shadow would be an achievement. He sets out some many challenges to those of us privileged enough to be accepted as a leader by others. For those of us working with children and trying to shape a future based on fairness but often frustrated by stupidity, politicking and sheer ignorance, keep his personal image in your heart.

 “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”