6 Quotes by Nelson Mandela That Will Make You a Better Leader

Words from one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century

Photo by John-Paul Henry on Unsplash

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – regarded as the anti-apartheid revolutionary, was the first black president of South Africa. He served as President from 1994 to 1999.

He was imprisoned in 1964 for his attempt to overthrow the ruling minority government.

There, he spent 27 years.

But amid domestic and international pressure, he was released by President F. W. de Klerk in 1990.

While he was president, he focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation.

He was given a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 – an award he shared with former president F. W. De Klerk for his work on the removal of the apartheid government.

Mandela died On 5 December 2013 from a prolonged respiratory infection at the age of 95.

By the time of his death, Mandela was widely considered in South Africa as the father of the nation. Globally, he is often cited alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King as one of the outstanding anti-racist and anti-colonial leaders of the 20th century.

No doubt, his words inspired many.

Here are six quotes from the extraordinary leader that will inspire you and make you a better leader.

1. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. A brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

When Mandela was thrown in prison, many people believe that the apartheid government finally had the upper hand. Many had doubts that there would ever be a South Africa without black segregation. But Mandela had courage. He knew he had to be proactive. He knew that worrying over things he had no control of would do him more arm.

While he was on trial at Rivonia, he gave a famous speech that showed how courageous he was.

“I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

– Nelson Mandela

Having courage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not afraid. It means that you are left with no option but to face your fear. It means that the fear of not facing your fears exceeds “the fear” itself. Courageous leaders are more afraid of doing nothing in the face of fear. And this propels them to take action. They feel the fear but take action anyway.

2. “As we are liberated from our fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Patrick Bet-David – a phenomenal businessman and YouTuber, once shared a story about his experience as a child during the war in Iran.

“I was with my family one night when we suddenly heard bombs dropping from above our roof. My dad took all of us – I, my mum, and my sister, to a safe place beneath our house. Hearing the bombs go off, we all panicked – except dad. I looked at his face and I couldn’t detect any sign of fear in them. Then I thought, ‘If dad isn’t afraid about what is going on, then I see no reason why I should.’ He gave me hope and liberated me from my fear.”

When we are faced with a challenge, the first thing we do, most of the time, is to panic. But we forget that as leaders, people look up to us. When we are afraid, we give them no option but to do the same.

Mandela knew better than to fear even amid his persecutors. He gave people courage through the way he led.

3. “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.”

Mandela believed in Ubuntu – an African philosophy with its basic theme expressed as: “I am because of who we all are.”

He believed that: “one can only be free if the freedom of others is respected.”

I quite agree with him.

Look at it this way. Let’s say your spouse got arrested by the police.

Will you be relieved?

I’m hoping your answer is no.

Why? Because it affects you. He or she is your spouse.

Leadership is about people. It is about creating bonds and establishing meaningful relationships. Without a follower, there will never be a leader. A good leader knows that the challenges of his followers affect him. And he does everything to ensure they are comfortable.

4. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. But if you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Regardless of where we are from, we all have a particular universal language. And you don’t have to be from a particular country or culture to understand it.

Have you ever wondered why you feel a certain way when you hear a particular song or watch a particular movie?

Whenever this happens, we are listening directly to the language of empathy. I call it “the language of relativity” because we can relate to what we are currently seeing or hearing.

Mandela was an empathic leader. He led from his heart. He knew the language of his people. And anytime he had the chance, he spoke it.

Great leaders are men and women of heart.

5. “You can start changing the world for the better daily, no matter how small the action.”

Canadian clinical psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson is said to have introduced the famous “clean your room” idea that has become a meme over the Internet. The basic concept of the meme – I mean, idea – is that great achievements occur progressively.

In his own words:

“If you are looking forward to changing the world, then start by changing yourself first. Maybe you can start by cleaning your damn room.”

Most people do not appreciate small improvements and changes in their lives. They want to achieve their immediate goal from the start. They forget that seeds never become trees overnight.

I used to think this way, but I’ve come to understand that the process of achieving a goal is more important than the goal itself. And that getting to the top of the mountain requires taking one step at a time.

Mandela understood that: to write a book, you have to start with the first word.

6. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Mandela saw education as an investment – the most critical investment one can make. He knew that without it, it would have been difficult for him to achieve his dream of a united South Africa.

Great leaders know that quality education is the key to changing the world.

Sadly, education, as important as it is, is not readily available to everyone.

It is estimated that over 61 million primary-aged children are out of school, and 250 million children in schools cannot read, write, or count well.

I hope that one day, this will be a thing of the past.

Final Thoughts

Mandela is considered a charismatic leader, an intelligent individual with a wicked sense of humor.

South Africans saw him as a messiah. Well, I don’t blame them. Mandela embodied the qualities of an impeccable leader.

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” – Nelson Mandela




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Our goal @Bisi is to Redefine African Leadership. We make documentaries and video essays about African leaders. Find us @ www.youtube.com\bisimedia

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