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5 powerful leadership quotes from Nelson Mandela

Photo source: AFP Photo source: AFP

It has been half a year since the passing of Nelson Mandela, the revolutionary leader who was the driving force for the turnaround of South Africa’s fate, and the abolishment of apartheid.

Having been thrown into jail for 27-years during his journey, Mandela endured gruelling physical labour duties that cost him his eyesight, and other physical and mental torments that one could only try and imagine.

Yet, Mandela emerged from all those barriers, still fighting for his cause, and successfully abolishing apartheid and racial segregations in his country. Later, he was made President of his homeland for five years, and moved on to philanthropy and helping victims of HIV/AIDS in his later years.

With all those life experiences under his belt, it is easy to see why many would consider Mandela one of the wisest men who have ever lived.

And so today, in conjunction with Nelson Mandela Day, we highlight five of his famous leadership quotes, and how it can be applied at your workplace.


“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

A leader who takes the backseat somehow exudes the vibe of wisdom. Why is that so?

It’s simple, really. A person who leads from behind displays their lack of need for recognition, and their pure focus toward their team goals.

They inspire and empower each member of their team to pursue their shared goal, to push their potential, and yet, are still shouldering the responsibility should anything go wrong.

To the team, they are their leader and protector.

Having said that, taking this backseat may be a highly effective way to lead, but it is not for everyone. Some situations require leaders to play a more active role than others.Make sure you assess your situation to determine the right kind of leadership style needed for your team.


“There are times when a leader must move out ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.”

This means, even backseat leaders would have to come out to actively point their team to a direction.

When this happens, there is no time for your confidence to waiver, or to indulge in any self-doubting. Your team is looking to you for direction, and even as you falter, stay positive and fake your confidence till you make it. And you will eventually make it - just keep persisting on your intuition, and go with the flow.


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

Everybody has one common fear – the fear of failure (also, cockroaches). Many of us refuse to live up to our potentials, as we are afraid of failing, and afraid of what others would think of us should we fail.

And so, we live our lives convincing ourselves that success is not meant for us, and that we are not that great to begin with.

Failing does not make you a failure. Refusing to try, makes you one.

It is those who have overcome this fear of failure that would thrive in life. However you define your success, stepping out of your comfort zone might seem scary at first, but whether you make it or break it, remember that the most important point is that you tried.

That’s more than many others(especially those who judge you) can say for themselves.


“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that's how they'll react. But if you say, 'We want peace, we want stability,' we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.”

When you approach a problem with the intention of illustrating your point of view, you will be getting the same reaction from your counterpart, thus leading to an argument instead of a solution.

As Mandela puts it, stating your objectives up front gives the other party something to work towards. So, instead of a he-said-she-said situation, you’ve now gotten yourselves a common objective to productively work towards, all defensiveness abandoned.


"There are so many men and women who hold no distinctive positions but whose contribution towards the development of society has been enormous."

You don’t have to be an official leader to be able to lead.

Mandela himself was President of South Africa for only five years. Yet his influence and leadership lasted way longer than that, proving that leadership is not defined by titles.

Many people play meaningful inspiring roles in others’ lives, and yet don’t receive recognition and praise as they are not official leaders.

So what, if the person quietly encouraging a greener lifestyle in the office is only just a fresh graduate? So what, if the person who keeps you safe by accompanying you to your car makes less money than you?

As Mandela puts it, they may not hold any position, but that doesn’t make their contributions any less deserving of our respect.

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