Multicultural Leadership: Nelson Mandela
One of the primary effects of globalization has been a growing need to groom multicultural leaders who can function effectively across cross-cultural boundaries. In a multicultural world, a leader can only tend to the needs of his followers if he knows and understands these needs in the first place. There is need, therefore, for leaders and those aspiring to take up leadership positions to boost their understanding of different cultures and take leadership lessons from great multicultural leaders before them. Nelson Mandela is one such leader — a multicultural figure who was able to understand and tend effectively to the needs of both the black and the white South African populations, managing to win the hearts of people both within and without the country. The subsequent sections of this text detail how Mandela was able to execute his multicultural leadership, and the specific traits that facilitated the same.
Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo Village, Transkei South Africa in 1918 to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Gadla Mandela, then chief counselor to the king of the Thembu people (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2014). His was a big family of 13 children, and he was the youngest of four boys (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2014). He started his education at an English preparatory school near his village, graduated from the University of South Africa with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1943 and joined politics in 1944, when he signed up for the African National Congress Youth League (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2014). As the head of the National Defiance Campaign of the ANC, Mandela led a series of demonstrations to protest laws that he termed unjust. This led him to be arrested in 1961 and sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly trying to overthrow the state. He served 27 years and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1995.
A perfect demonstration of Mandela’s appreciation for multiculturalism was the speech he gave from the dock during his conviction:
I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve; but if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die” (Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2014, n.pag).
Mandela’s Leadership Traits
Sacrifice and Compromise: Born into royalty, Mandela developed respect for culture and traditions from a very young age; and having been brought up in a large extended family (where he was not the last child); he developed a strong sense of community, sacrifice, and compromise for the sake of protecting traditions. His sense of sacrifice for the greater good was demonstrated by the fact that he was willing to die, just so his people would be free from apartheid, and this made him connect effectively with the South African populace (Mazinter, 2013).
Tenacity and Self-Discipline: even while serving his jail term, when there was no surety that he would ever be released, Mandela maintained his resilience to continue studying and increase knowledge for both himself and other inmates. To him, continuous education/learning was the only way through which he would understand the culture of his own people as well as those of other groups (Mazinter, 2013). He strived to do the right thing even when faced with danger, and this resilience increased his ability to provide direction to his followers.
Sociability: while in prison, Mandela built strong social relations with prison guards, and was able to use these to his advantage in actualizing his goal to end apartheid (Mazinter, 2013). By maintaining strong social relations with the people with whom he worked in prison, and who had a direct influence on how inmates were treated, Mandela was able to influence their actions and thereby ensure that apartheid and dehumanization were undermined, at least within the prison facility. Influencing the masses begins with influencing the people around and closest to you.
Mandela’s Leadership Style
A leader’s style of leadership is the manner in which they manage, and give instructions to their followers (Hamilton, 2010). Mandela is seen to demonstrate the democratic leadership style, where there is two-way communication between the leader and his followers, and the leader strives to obtain input from followers so that courses of action and decisions are made jointly (Hamilton, 2010). He exercised a three-dimensional, rounded view to life and humanity, recognizing that people have different views, and the best solution could only be realized if these different perspectives are taken into account. Mandela delegated and involved other people in organizing campaign rallies; and even while in prison, he delegated men who had spent more time there to befriend prison wardens so his vision of ending apartheid could be actualized (Mazinter, 2013). The greatest demonstration of Mandela’s democratic style of leadership was when, in his speech upon being released from prison, he said that he would only make a few preliminary statements then and would give a more profound statement once he had had the opportunity to consult with his party members (I have included the link to the historic speech in the references section).
Types of Power
Mandela made use of both legitimate and referent power in getting the South African people to identify with his vision (Daft, 2014). His legitimate power came from the position he occupied as the defiance campaign leader in the popular ANC party. People recognized his authority as a leader and looked up to him for guidance and direction on how to relieve South Africa from the Nationalist Rule. Referent power, unlike legitimate power, has nothing to do with authority – it comes from being respected and trusted by one’s followers (Daft, 2014). The South African population trusted Mandela’s will because he had shown right from the onset that he was willing to die to set South Africa free, and had maintained the same will in the face of adversity during imprisonment. Upon release (27 years later), he still showed his determination to actualize that vision. Both of these had the effect of making Mandela a charismatic leader. The authority commanded by the position he occupied in ANC, coupled with his self-determination earned him the trust and loyalty of his followers; and this is why it was relatively easy for him to convince the masses to turn up in demonstration rallies and ANC rebellion campaigns.
Mandela’s Motivation Strategies
Simply stated, a leader’s motivation strategies are the specific elements that he uses to inspire people to follow him (Saner, 2008). Mandela made use of a number of key strategies in influencing his followers. First, he made use of symbols to tell stories about history, communicate his vision, frame his experiences and capture attention. In prison, he inspired his colleagues by telling them stories about the vision and image he had of a free and democratic South Africa (Mazinter, 2013). He used symbols to illustrate his understanding of and connection to the people of South Africa — in 1962, for instance, during one of his court appearances, Mandela wore a symbolic kaross to demonstrate that he respected the traditions, history, and culture of the South African people, and he was ready to defend it all costs (Mazinter, 2013). South Africans valued their native cultures, and by showing that he looked out for it, Mandela was able to identify with them and get them to follow him in actualizing his vision.
Mandela also inspired his followers through articulating a shared vision (Mazinter, 2013). He strived to make his vision to end apartheid one for the entire population in the belief that once individual followers took the vision as their own, they would be committed to join others in fighting towards its actualization (Brock & Green, 2005). In his speeches, Mandela brought his comrades, friends, and ANC members together in his struggle, articulating that “no man or woman who abandoned apartheid would be excluded from the movement towards aâ€¦Democratic South Africa” (Mazinter, 2013, p. 8).
Evidently, Mandela was a great leader. He was able to appeal effectively to a multicultural audience both within and without the nation of South Africa. There are some key elements that leaders could emulate from Mandela’s leadership to increase their effectiveness in multicultural settings. Leaders need to demonstrate a will to remain resilient in the achievement of organizational goals and visions; only then will they be able to provide a clear sense of direction to their followers. They ought to be committed to the process of continuous learning so that they are in a position to better understand the specific needs of their followers. Sacrifice is key — leaders ought to be willing to put the goals of the organization and the needs of their followers before their own needs. In addition, they ought to breed an environment that encourages open-mindedness and democracy in decision-making because it is only in so doing that the overall mission will become one shared by all stakeholders.
Brock, T.C. & Green, M.C. (Eds.). (2005). Persuasion: Psychological Insights and Perspectives (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing
Daft, R. (2014). The Leadership Experience (6th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning
Hamilton, C. (2010). Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning
Lussier, R. & Achua, C. (2009). Leadership: Theory, Application and Skill Development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning
Mazinter, L. (2013). Nelson Mandela: A Leader for the Ages. Rotary Club of the Southwest USA. Retrieved June 18, 2015 from http://www.recswusa.org/site_uploads/program/510/NelsonMandelaLeadershipLessons.pdf
Nelson Mandela Foundation. (2013). Biography of Nelson Mandela. The Nelson Mandela Foundation. Retrieved June 17, 2015 from https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/biography
Saner, R. (2008). The Expert Negotiator: Strategy, Tactics, Motivation, Behavior, Leadership (3rd ed.). Leiden, The Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers
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