Nelson Mandela was one of the most outstanding leaders of the 20th century. He led a non-violent movement that succeeded in completely undoing the unjust system of Apartheid in South Africa. His leadership was a lynchpin of the movement, even when he was in prison. Anyone who wants to develop their own leadership traits would do well to emulate him. In this article, we will outline eleven of Nelson Mandela’s most outstanding leadership traits.

  1. Mandela had an incredible amount of endurance.

Nelson Mandela quite simply would not give up his fight to end Apartheid. Ever. This was a man who went to prison in June of 1964 and was not released until February of 1990. For nearly sixteen years of his life, he was kept behind bars and separated from his family. It certainly puts the challenges of dealing customer complaints or difficult employees into perspective. The lesson here is to never give up because your goals are difficult to achieve or because you have run into resistance.

  1. Mandela knew the power of forgiveness.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”- Nelson Mandela. It was this spirit of forgiveness and moving forward that led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and become president he did not seek vengeance. Instead he sought a way to heal the wounds Apartheid had inflicted on his company and bring it together. He led his country on a path of peace through forgiveness.

  1. Mandela had a very strong vision of what he wanted to accomplish.

Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944. Between 1944 and 1964, when he was imprisoned, he led a campaign of civil disobedience designed to end Apartheid. During that time, he developed a clear vision of what South Africa could be without Apartheid. When he was released from prison in 1990 and subsequently elected president he set about making that vision a reality. He succeeded because he a clear vision of what needed to happen in order to unify both black and white people in South Africa and achieve peace.

  1. Mandela was a humble man.

Like other icons of civil disobedience, such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi, Nelson Mandela was a humble man. He was not full of ego and he firmly believed that all great peacemakers had to be people of humility. He said, “I am not a saint unless you think of saint a sinner who keeps on trying.” That humility allowed him to rise above his ego and make great personal sacrifices for his beliefs. It also made him a role model that other people would emulate and follow. Humility allows a leader to lead by example.

  1. Mandela gave people hope.

The entire arc of his life showed that Mandela was a man who was full of hope. He never gave into despair, even when he was in prison. This unflagging belief in what was right and in the possibility that justice would prevail was often infectious. Great leaders set a moral and positive tone that uplifts their followers and inspires hope. It is how he was able to lead South Africa to peace and unity after Apartheid rather than hatred and more violence.

  1. Patience is a virtue that Mandela had a lot of.

“We should not let an illusion of urgency force us to make decisions before we are ready.”- Nelson Mandela. If anyone ever knows how to play the long game it was him. He spent decades dedicating himself to a cause that didn’t seem likely to succeed in the early years. The time he spent in prison taught him the value of patience. He waited for and worked toward the accomplishment of his goals during that time. Great leaders know that instant gratification is not the way to achieve big goals.

  1. Mandela knew that a smile is an important weapon.

“Appearances matter- and remember to smile.”- Nelson Mandela. He was known for his good humor. A smile and pleasant demeanor is a powerful way to disarm tension and enmity. It can be a much more powerful tool in the face of hatred and opposition than raised voices and ugly words.

  1. Mandela strived for things that were greater than himself.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”- Nelson Mandela. Great leaders focus on what they want to achieve and not their own glorification. That does mean making sacrifices. You might not have to make the kind of sacrifices that Mandela made but achieving important goals does demand your time, energy and focus.

  1. Mandela knew the power of positive thinking.

“Courage is not the absence of fear — it is inspiring others to move beyond it.”- Nelson Mandela.   He knew that negative thinking doesn’t have the same power to effect change that positive thinking does. Mandela certainly knew that if would not be possible to transform South Africa with negativity. Great leaders know that destructive and hate-filled thoughts tear things down and positive thoughts are the way to build things up.

  1. Mandela was the definition of true grit.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”- Nelson Mandela. He spent decades fighting oppression, being accused of treason, and struggling to overcome the ingrained racism in his country- and that was before he went to prison. Great leaders know that failure happens. They also know that how to react to failure is what helps you achieve success.

  1. Mandela knew that peace allows for prosperity.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”- Nelson Mandela. This is one of the most important lessons of great leadership. One of the reasons that Mandela was able to unite South Africa was his determination to replace Apartheid with a system that allowed for the freedom and prosperity of all South Africans. Mandela realized that most people want peace and stability because that is how a society (and a business) prospers.


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ANDREAS is the Founder of Combat Business Coaching, #1 Bestselling author of Business Leader Combat, marketing strategist, business growth expert, advisor, consultant and army combat veteran. Andreas works with small and medium-sized businesses and help them build meaningful businesses so that they can have more profit, fans and freedom. Service in the US Army forged Andreas’s character. It tested him, tested his endurance, faith, and internal fortitude. He describes it as “a trial by fire” and remains profoundly grateful for it. When he finally left the Army he did so with an astute understanding of self-ownership, implementing a vision, and the value in establishing trust and reputation. Jones applied all that he had learned serving his country to a series of jobs, including that of a VP at Sun Trust Bank. Each of his positions have endowed him with the type of knowledge required to start his own business and to provide a workable schematic for others to follow. Andreas has taken his hard-won Army lessons into the world of business, continuing to learn new skills and insight. Each fresh challenge, project or position has helped him grow into the individual he is today.
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Dr. Jennifer Beaman

What a beautiful article Andreas~ You’ve posited Mandela’s leadership in such an amazing way that it truly serves as a gentle reminder of the mindset and behavioral attributes we can and should all strive for.

He is genuinely what it means when we hear the adage, ‘while we can’t control other people’s behavior, we have complete control over our own’. He hit the nail on the head with his assertion that a smile can serve as a beacon – such a simple (and free!) gesture can carry so much influence.

A man of absolute inner strength and remarkable selflessness, Mandela was the model of servant leadership and his tenacity is one we should all strive for.