The Greatest Leader

I have been thinking about ways to bring together many of the thoughts and ideas that I have posted over the past two years.  The passing of a man that I consider the greatest leader of all time, Nelson Mandela, reminded me that he embodied them all.

Nelson Mandela was the perfect balance of the feminine and masculine energy. In his zeal for independence and hate for apartheid, he exhibited many of the traits typically attributed as masculine: courage, resilience, drive, focus, decisiveness, and results-orientation. In his preference for reconciliation rather than rancor and revenge against the Afrikaners, he decided to build a rainbow coalition, and exercised qualities typically attributed as feminine: expressive, emotions, tenderness, relatedness, love and compassion, imagination, gentleness, creativity, intuition, and harmony. This aspect of his leadership is one of the most important reasons for the peaceful transition of South Africa from the apartheid regime to majority rule.

He was the ultimate reflective leader. Twenty seven years of prison provided him ample time to reflect and learn. In prison he learned the language of the Afrikaner, his culture and mores.  He realized that the journey to reconciliation started with understanding your adversary.  His reflections allowed him to piece together his strategy for the rainbow nation and ways of moving Afrikaners into nation-building.  After his liberation, he continued to take his nightly walks alone to reflect on his day and to capture the learning.

Mandela was the personification of an authentic leader. He made his values and beliefs transparent and his actions supported them.  For example, when it was discovered that Winnie, his lifelong soul mate who stood by him throughout his prison years had misused her power, he stripped her of power and eventually left her.

He was the giver leader. After he stepped down from presidency, he spent most of his time in the service of children with grave illnesses and AIDS. He travelled the world for peace and harmony, and because of his credibility and stature, was able to influence numerous world leaders to better the human condition.

Mandela understood the power of words and the impact of humor.  Those that heard him were moved by his words, which were often spoken with conviction and the wisdom that comes with years of suffering and reflection.  His words resonated with people across the globe because he understood his audiences and took special care to connect with each at their level.  His informal style and humor made him approachable and liked.

We have lost one of the most inspirational and exceptional leaders our planet has known. In dedicating this posting to him, my sincere wish is for my readers to reflect on the actions of this great man. Hopefully, each of you can reach deep inside yourselves to access the leader attributes that are awaiting discovery and to be carried out in the service of those that have entrusted their lives and careers to you.


About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

One Response to The Greatest Leader

  1. Judy Cole says:

    Great perspective. In the end, it is all about servant leadership. J. Cole

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