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Mandela’s Leadership Report

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2021

Executive summary

Mandela is one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century. By the turn of the millennium, Mandela had become a household name because of his success in ending apartheid in South Africa. Not only did he successfully lead South Africa in the fight against apartheid, but he also united people of different races after he became President, and thereby prevented civil war in South Africa.

Mandela is also one of the most selfless leaders the world has ever seen. During his term in office, which ran until 1999, he never misused power. Instead, he sought to empower the masses by exemplifying cohesion.

He forgave his tormentors and urged the South African public to live in harmony with one another regardless of their race. After one term, he left office and became the first African leader to do so. His success as a leader can be attributed to the fact that he was a charismatic, transformative and democratic leader.


Nelson Mandela is indubitably a revolutionary leader. The transformative aspects of his leadership brought changes that are treasured by South Africa two decades after the country’s independence. He remarkably negotiated for the end of apartheid and persuaded the South African public to forgive each other and live in harmony despite their racial differences.

He left office after only one term as President, paving way for other leaders. Mandela never misused power while in office, a fact that explains why he never held to it in the first place. He used his power to better the lives of the public in South Africa and set an example of selfless leadership.

Mandela’s effectiveness in leadership can be attributed to his personal traits and decisive selection of good leadership styles. He is a charismatic and democratic leader. His leadership is also transformative in nature because he transformed the mindset of the public.

He ended apartheid, ushered in democracy and promoted a cohesive government, a feat that was seemingly unachievable during the years of apartheid. This paper analyses Mandela’s leadership styles and investigates his use of power.

Mandela’s leadership style and behaviour

In his fight against apartheid and during his advocacy for democracy, Mandela always used the charismatic leadership style. In leadership studies, charisma is defined as a quality that differentiates the person who possesses it from others, giving him/her unrivalled persuasive power (Dalglish & Miller 2010). Mandela’s charismatic leadership had a touch of democracy.

A democratic leader engages followers in discussions and encourages interactions among the followers with the aim of reaching consensus in decision making (Ripka 2007). It is however important to note that without certain traits, a leader cannot successfully adopt the charismatic and democratic styles of leadership. Charismatic leaders are particularly good in persuasion, speech and organizing (Rabinowitz 2013).

They are honest, open minded and they have good listening skills. Mandela was the kind of leader who could listen to an argument for hours without making a comment and later help the people involved to reach consensus. He “is legendary for listening to all sides of the argument, taking guidance and then offering his analysis” (Curnow 2011, p. 1).

He sometimes made proposals, which he gladly accepted as unfeasible if other people made him realise so. For instance, he once proposed voting age to be brought down to fourteen in South Africa. After public backlash on the proposal, he gave up on it. These are some of the qualities of a charismatic and democratic leader.

Mandela’s experiences in the hands of the minority government had made him synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement. He found himself being the unquestionable leader of anti-apartheid groups across South Africa.

In addition to this, Mandela was the symbolic leader of a myriad of liberation movements that were established during the fight against apartheid. He became the story through which people were made to understand the evil nature of apartheid (O’Fallon 2012). This status was a delicate affair for Mandela, who could have easily lost the confidence of the people if he adopted a poor leadership style.

However, Mandela is intelligent and he possesses a sociable charisma that enabled him to connect well with the masses as well as the oppressive administration. Mandela also believes in non-violence and thus “his weapons were those of persuasion not of guns and bolts.

He was not a revolutionary bent upon seizing power. His ambition was higher, to convince all South Africans to embrace reconciliation, fairness and learn to live in harmony” (Bray n.d., p. 1). Mandela used dialogue and consensus to solve issues. These are important aspects of any democracy, and the leader of the democracy must be good in nurturing them.

One of the reasons for Mandela’s success in leadership is his understanding of the fact that in South Africa, democracy could not be achieved without reconciliation. Additionally, he knew that justice was not achievable without peace. Mandela was ready to pursue whatever means to liberate the South African public, but being a wise man, he knew he had to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s example of non-violence.

Upon this realization, Mandela employed his political cunning, charm and farsightedness to achieve a dream for which he had been imprisoned for decades (Carlin 2013). This shows his charismatic leadership because he was able to control himself in order to realize his dream of a peaceful South Africa where people of different races lived together in harmony.

Mandela’s transformative and transactional leadership

Transformative aspects of Mandela’s leadership

Leaders are often encountered with the need to change the status quo. Some qualities are a must for transformative leaders. The first is charisma. The leader needs to “have vision and a sense of mission” (Dalglish & Miller, 2010, p. 140). The leader has the confidence, respect and loyalty of his/her followers. This kind of framework ensures that the transformative aspects of the leader are fully realized.

Mandela was such a leader. Mandela’s vision of “a beautiful South Africa” (Le 2009, p. 1) had profound effects on governance in South Africa. The vision actually resulted in a changed nation, after the Mandela influenced the public to share his vision. Transformative leadership is all about realizing change that has been envisioned before the realization (Shields 2010), and thus Mandela was rightfully a transformative leader.

Dalglish and Miller (2010) state that transformative leaders are more likely to be successful if they are inspirational. “Part of the inspiration derives from communicating a vision with fluency and confidence” (Dalglish & Miller 2010). By appealing to supporters and supporting them emotionally, a leader is able to inspire his/her supporters to exceed the expectations they initially had.

The leader must be a skilful communicator like Mandela was. Mandela was among the few leaders who are capable of inspiring audiences beyond their country. “Few others would have managed to unite the disparate warring parties and steer South Africa from what seemed to be the brink of civil war” (Nelson Mandela 2013, p. 1). The cohesive transformation brought by Mandela was one of his most remarkable accomplishments.

Lastly, transformational leaders offer personal attention to their followers and support them in the steps they take to realize their mission (McDowelle 2009). Mandela was such a leader.

While in prison, he devised new communication methods that helped in organizing for hunger strikes. The strikes led to better living conditions in the prison. However, the most transformative aspect of Mandela’s leadership was his leadership against apartheid, and the subsequent reconciliation.

Transactional aspects of Mandela’s leadership

In a transactional leadership, there is an exchange between the leader and followers (Lai 2011). The transaction does not have to be composed of pre-defined valuables, but rather the leader gets something he/she needs and his/her followers also get something they need. However, the transaction must be acceptable to both parties (Dalglish & Miller 2010).

In Mandela’s case, he offered the public with inspiration and vision, which turned them from ordinary to extra-ordinary. Mandela also saved South African masses from the polarization that had threatened their peace for long. He shared his vision of peace in multicultural communities and set an example not only to South Africans, but also to the world.

His Gandhi-inspired belief in non-violence has also been treasured by South Africans and the world because it is arguably the reason South Africa did not descend into civil war. The masses on the other hand, offered Mandela companionship in the fight against the apartheid government.

After election into office, the South African public offered Mandela unwavering support that increased his confidence and made him more determined to serve his country (Baale 2013).

Mandela’s use of power

The most remarkable aspect of Mandela’s leadership is perhaps his use of power for the good of the public, and his lack of greed for power. During the fight against apartheid, Mandela remarkably used his intellectual and political power to influence the administration until it gave him a chance to implement his vision of reconciliation, protection of property, protection of human rights and the rule of law.

This was accomplished after the minority government gave in to the demands for a democratically elected government in the year 1994. Instead of holding on to power after being elected President, Mandela sought to empower the public (Le 2009).

Mandela’s style of managing power is proof of his transformative leadership skills. Lowe, Kroech and Sivasubramaniam (1996, p. 407) state that a “transformational leader, through intellectual stimulation, instils feelings of power in followers to attain higher goals through socialized power rather than the pure charismatic leader who attempts to exert dominance and subjugate followers through personalized power”.

Mandela used his visionary power, charm and negotiation skills to win the confidence of the minority government, which eventually agreed to voluntarily give up power. Among his powers were expert and referent power that he utilized well as he led South Africa in the fight against apartheid.

Mandela was a trustworthy individual who could easily convince his opponents, both in political circles and in prison, to follow his ideals. He remarkably used his intellect and charm to negotiate with prison warders for better living conditions. After he won the subsequent 1994 elections with two-thirds of the votes, he used his power to reconcile the people who had previously been fighting, a step that led to worldwide peace efforts.

“Unlike dictators and so many populist Presidents, he left office after only one term. He showed no love for power, only a fearless commitment to the most noble of values, which he celebrated even in the most terrible of times” (Bray n.d., p. 1).

This decision has earned Mandela the respect of world leaders, as he showed no greed for power because he did not misuse power during his term in office. It is common knowledge that Presidents who hold on to power do so to protect themselves from prosecution for abuse of the power bestowed upon them.

Mandela’s knowledge and skills gave him influential power over South African populace. Mandela had graduated from the University with a degree in Law and he enjoyed political power because of his tenure as the ANC (African National Congress) leader. Mandela also enjoyed prestige power because he was a member of the South African elite before his political endeavours (Read 2010).

The aforementioned power would prove helpful to Mandela even in prison. As mentioned above, he used his political power in prison to rally support against poor living conditions (Le 2009). Mandela’s power management skills are arguably the reason he succeeded in leading South Africa against apartheid and in becoming the global icon he is today.


Mandela is arguably the greatest leader alive. He is famously known for leading the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and subsequently reconciling the public when he was elected President.

During his politicking days, Mandela showed transformative, democratic and charismatic leadership styles. He is a gifted individual who used his persuasive power to get the approval of both the public and the apartheid administration. Mandela is open minded, honest and a good listener.

These qualities made him a successful charismatic and democratic leader during the fight against apartheid. He is also confident and good in speech, qualities that indubitably make him the great leader he is. He remarkably encouraged people from different racial backgrounds in South Africa to live in harmony with each other, and thereby avoided a civil crisis.

He embraced his tormentors and encouraged the masses to emulate his forgiveness. He became synonymous with the struggle against apartheid because he was the central figure and the leader of the anti-apartheid movement. After serving only one term as President, Mandela handed over power, becoming the first African leader to do so.

Reference List

Baale, L 2013, Valuable Leadership Lessons From Nelson Mandela. Web.

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Carlin, J. 2013, Nelson Mandela’s Legacy. Web.

Curnow, R. 2011, Mandela’s Leadership Lessons. Web.

Dalglish, C. & Miller, P 2010, Leadership: Understanding its Global Impact, Tilde University Press, Australia.

Lai, A. 2011, ‘Transformational-Transactional Leadership Theory’, AHS Capstone Projects, Paper 17. Web.

Le, T. 2009, Leadership Style: Nelson Mandela Vs Adolf Hitler. Web.

Lowe, K., Kroeck, K. & Sivasubramaniam, N. 1996. ‘’, The Leadership Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 385-415. Web.

McDowelle, J. 2009, ‘A Contemporary Consideration of Transformative Leadership’, Journal of Curriculum and Instruction, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 1-5, East Carolina University, DOI 10.3776/joci.2009.v3n2p1-5.

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O’Fallon, S. 2012, . Web.

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Read, J. 2010, ‘Leadership and Power in Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom’, Journal of Power, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 317-339, Taylor Francis Online, DOI 10.1080/17540291.2010.524792.

Ripka, J. 2007, Nelson Mandela and His Leadership Style. Web.

Shields, C. 2010, ‘Transformative Leadership: Working for Equity in Diverse Contexts’, Educational Administration Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 558-589, Sage Journals, DOI 10.1177/0013161X10375609.

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