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Seven leadership lessons inspired by Nelson Mandela

Every time I think of Nelson Mandela the first thought in my mind is we need more like him. We are ready and in serious need of leaders to inspire us and motivate us with action as much as words.

Leadership is hard to define, mostly because it means different things to different people. We know it requires knowledge, strength and compassion. We expect leaders to be fair, to share our values and provide direction. That to me is what leaders like Mandela represent.

As a Hispanic woman, health advocate and entrepreneur I strive to one day become a strong leader in my community and emulate the leadership values that I learn from people like Nelson Mandela. By taking daily action, living with integrity and following my intuition, I too hope to inspire others to follow their own path and let their light shine.

When looking to develop leadership skills, whether it is at home, with your peers at work or in the community, it is very helpful to look for mentors, role models that have spent years mastering leadership traits and putting them into practice. I have many mentors but Nelson Mandela is very much at the top of that list. I continue to learn many lessons from him, but the ones that remain timeless to me are as follows:

1. Inspire with action

Motivate others with your words and actions. Give them courage, inspire them to learn more, instil in them a sense of possibility. Every action that you take will lead to a learning opportunity and will encourage moving forward movement in others. Teach others by example. If you do it, they will follow.

2. Be better, not bitter

Nelson Mandela is the impersonation of this powerful lesson. He was put in jail by a brutal regime for 27 years simply because he was fighting for fairness and equality. But even while jailed, he continued to be a leader and the symbol of the struggles of South Africans. Amazingly, after his release from jail, he became a stronger leader, not bitter or ready for revenge. He found common ground, embracing those who were once against him and helping the country bridge a seemingly impossible gap.

3. Fail to plan, plan to fail

People fail to accomplish their goals many times because of this simple premise. Planning and organising ahead of time is key to the success of any task or endeavour, whether in your personal or business life. Organise your ideas, write out a plan with actionable steps to take and deadlines and set out your goals.

4. Work with the willing

Most of us have gotten caught up at least once in the emotional roller-coaster that is wanting to work with or help someone who has the talent, the potential or the need, even if that person is unwilling or incapable. Move on from those that don’t want to do or be where you want them to do or be. And don’t carry their burden. Let them go through their journey and spend your time and energy looking for like-minded people who you can partner with.

5. Communicate

Communication is the simple act of getting a message across clearly and unequivocally to others. This sounds simple in theory but communication is one of the hardest things to do because there are so many things in play (body language, cultural idiosyncrasies among others) that can get in the way and cause confusion. Nelson Mandela was a master communicator, which is one of the top traits of a great leader.

6. Become a people’s person

Nelson Mandela was an incredibly dynamic person who was able to motivate an entire country to work together and move past a very difficult time in their history for the benefit of all. He wasn’t attached to a particular ideology or goal. Instead, he was willing to build relationships on all sides in order to accomplish his goal of a united and successful South Africa.

7. Develop strong character

Nelson Mandela and his followers knew that they were doing the right thing, even if it was dangerous and could have cost them their freedom (as it did for many years) or even their lives. But they had strong convictions and a strong sense of character and got a lot of respect (and followers) because of it.

Jovanka Ciares is a wellness expert, nutrition consultant and author.


  • Indeed, there is so much to learn from this great leader of our time. If only the present an future leaders will learn from this icon and let that Godlike personality shine forth through us.
    Talk about a fulfilling live; there is no better way to live.

    May his soul rest in perfect peace

  • John Taabavi

    Very inspiring message to leaders around the world, especially those in Africa.But let me add another trait that our leaders should imbibe,-SSF, the Sense of Sincere Forgiveness, i admire Mandela for that.

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