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As Nelson Mandela nears what is seemingly the final stage of his time on earth, I thought I’d share one or two things I’ve learned from his great life.

The power of grace

As the history books will tell you, Mandela was certainly no pacifist, but he never sought violent revenge upon the racist regime that had oppressed him. Consider his words: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Mandela understood that you can only change the future once you’ve forgiven what’s happened in the past. True leaders forgive and move on. Petty people stay in a cycle of revenge.

In my boarding school, I saw a system of revenge perpetuate itself year after year, as boys who’d been harshly treated by their prefects grew up into prefects who meted out the same treatment on those below them. How ironic – and yet this very kind of leadership plunges nations into civil wars across the globe.

As goes the leader ...

The leader sets the tone for his followers. Mandela’s choice not to respond in kind to his jailers was one of the key decisions that allowed for a peaceful transition to democracy in South Africa. As goes the leaders, so goes the nation. Or company. Or organisation. Or church. Or family.

The more influence you accrue as a leader, the greater impact your choices will have on those around you. For better or for worse. So choose wisely how you lead, for many are watching … and many are following suit.

Courage and humility are attractional

I think one of the greatest things that attracts us to Nelson Mandela is his great courage and deep humility. We respect him for it. And we listen to him because of it. It’s a well-said truth that humility is the chief of the virtues. And courage is the mark of any leader.

Great moral figures know both how to serve and how to lead. They aren’t afraid of shaking up the system, but they also aren’t so consumed with their own self-importance that they forget to make it about others. I think Jesus was also a great example of the confluence of these two virtues – he courageously challenged an entire way of thinking about God and morality, and it was his sacrificial death for the sake of the world that marked him as the greatest figure in history. Think about it: a lot of people have mixed emotions about the church, but almost everyone respects Jesus. Courage and humility are deeply attractional.

What leadership lessons have you learned from Nelson Mandela or from other great leaders that have helped you in your journey?

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