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Mandela -01

By Dr Grace Mansah-Owusu

The sad passing of Nelson Mandela, the anti apartheid revolutionary and ex president of South Africa has dominated the news over the last month.

During the struggle for independence for all citizens of South Africa, Mandela never lost hope or lost sight of his vision of “One Man, One vote”.

Using trait and transformational leadership theories, this article will highlight what we can learn from Mandela’s exceptional leadership style.

Trait Leadership Theory (Allport 1936)

The trait leadership theory suggests that there are central aspects of an individual’s personality which make them more likely to lead. Mandela’s name is synonymous with traits such as:

Mandela had the ability to stir a crowd, individuals listened. During the 1964 Rivonia Trial Mandela delivered a 3 hour address to the court expressing his determination in removing all traces of the apartheid. Charisma is a great trait for leaders and creates a motivated and engaged work force.

Mandela was known as an honest and respected man who was successfully able to move South Africa to fair and free elections. Integrity is a very important trait in leaders in order to increase motivation and organisational commitment.

Many leaders are able to envision the future in ways many individuals cannot. This is a useful trait of a great leader as they can possibly with stand bad times and foresee a better future. Mandela was able to see the bigger picture throughout his 27 years of imprisonment.

Being determined and is a extremely useful aspect of being a leader. Possessing resiliency and flexibility in the face of change can grow leaders which may increase organisational profitability. Mandela was able to be steadfast in his beliefs and never gave up on his ideals.

Transformational Leadership (Burns 1978)

This leadership theory suggests that individuals stimulate “and inspire to achieve extraordinary outcomes” (Bass and Riggio 2008).  It has been stated that through their vision and personality, leaders are able to transform organisations into successful businesses. By being motivational, inspiring and stimulating to those they are leading leaders are able to foster an atmosphere of loyalty and respect.

Inspirational motivation
This includes behaviours such as expressing appealing visions, focussing efforts and behaving in ways to energise followers. Nelson Mandela was able to do this by inspiring first the ANC to follow his lead and campaigning for equal rights. Additionally, whilst in prison Mandela was still able to have a voice (through others) to communicate his vision of ending Apartheid. Lastly Mandela was able to be a inspirational motivator after he was released in 1990 Mandela was able to broker a peace deal, despite an initial amount of unrest leading, but eventually led to a fairer system.

Individualised consideration
Supportive behaviour towards followers, showing concern for their needs, encouraging and assisting development.

Idealised influenced
This involves your charisma as a leader, if people perceive you are confident, competent and committed to higher ideals and ethics they are more likely to follow you and involves how you action are related to your values beliefs and missions.

Intellectual stimulation
Helping followers by inspiring creativity of thoughts. Changing outlook on life. Mandela was able to make ANC members and those who followed him realise that  their sacrifices and decisions would lead South Africa to “freedom”.

Based on this there are more likely to be positive results, higher levels of performance and achievement within the team or organisation. A research study which investigated 113 research investigations based on transformational leadership found that it was associated with higher levels of follower performance (Wang, et al, 2011). This shows that the leadership traits associated with transformational leadership positively affect how individuals behave in organisations.  Based on this one can say that Nelson Mandela possessed all the characteristics of a transformational leader, persuading, inspiring and leading South Africa to become a fairer and freer society.


Therefore in short, Nelson Mandela can show us many things about being better leaders. These include: having integrity, vision and being tenacious; these are all useful ways in which we can lead or our organisations to success in the face of unpredictable times.

About the author

Grace Owusu -01Dr Grace Mansah-Owusu is a member of the British Psychological Society and has had 6 years experience working in a variety of organisations in diversity, training, assessment, selection and lecturing.

She has recently completed her PhD which focused on the boundaryless career and its applicability to black knowledge intensive workers in the UK.  Grace is an active blogger and would like to spread awareness of HR trends and information to increase organisational effectiveness and well being.

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