Over the past weeks, media around the world provided daily headline stories on Nelson Mandela’s ailing health conditions. Undoubtedly, Mandela is a highly-esteemed leader who is well-loved not just by his own people, but by people around the world who has witnessed his tenacity and commitment to the cause which he fought for. Nelson Mandela exemplifies the transformational leader who motivates his followers to exceptional accomplishments through charisma, inspiration, individualized attention and intellectual stimulation.
The transformational approach analyses the leader-follower interaction and examines how certain leaders are able to motivate followers by inspiring and empowering them towards achieving a common vision through a strong sense of purpose and commitment. Unlike theories such as the trait approach and skills approach, the transformational approach examines characteristics of the leader, the followers, and the situation. Transformational leaders possess the gift to “engage with followers and create a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower” (Northouse, 2013, p186). Their ability to inspire followers denotes a high level of emotional intelligence; which encompasses “self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation, conscientiousness, motivation, empathy, and social skills” (Goleman, 1995). Even as a young man in his twenties, Mandela had the vision to end the apartheid system in his beloved country. Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942 and led a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its unfair discrimination against his own people in their own land (Nelson Mandela, 2013). He was a charismatic leader who was able to articulate his vision and gained millions of followers who shared this vision. Beyond that, he was known as a role model for his strong moral conviction, personal example, and self-sacrifice. He was well aware that his political uprising would lead to prosecution and incarceration by the ruling government, yet he remained undaunted by the consequences of his actions. Even as his quest for fairness and equality landed him in jail for twenty-seven years, he remained true and committed to his vision.
Transformational leaders attempt to inspire others by addressing individuals’ self-actualization needs to support the greater good rather than their own self-interests (Kuhnert, 1994) and they recognize that “charismatic effects are more likely to occur in contexts in which followers feel distress” (Northouse, 2013, p189). Nelson Mandela understood his people and their desires for freedom and democracy. Followers of Nelson Mandela believed that his ideals and vision represented the means to end the years of bigotry in their country. They possessed the strong desire to fulfil their self-actualization needs of being free from years of segregation and discrimination. Correspondingly, they felt empowered to adopt the necessary measures to achieve their common goals, and were willing to abide by guidance given by their leader. In addition to the characteristics of Mandela and his followers, situational characteristics also facilitated Mandela’s success as a transformational leader. During the twenty-seven years which Mandela spent in prison, he gathered immense international support around the world. Along with domestic support, this system of international backing culminated in his eventual release and inauguration as South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994.
Transformational leaders also understand that multiple stakeholders are involved in the organization, and that there is a need for an inclusive and interactive environment. They are “social architects” (Northouse, 2013, p197) who engage highly effective communication tactics by participating in group efforts, encouraging participation, and being openly supportive and sensitive to disagreements. From 1994 until June 1999, Mandela led the country through a period of transition from apartheid to black majority rule. As a transformational leader, he successfully used the country’s love for sports to promote reconciliatory efforts and hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995 which further instilled a sense of nationalistic pride in its people and promoted reconciliation. Under the new constitution, Mandela ensured that the rights of minorities and freedom of expression was incorporated under the system of black majority rule (Nelson Mandela, 2013).
Nelson Mandela epitomizes the transformational leader whose values transcend beyond that of his own needs for the greater good of humanity. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1993, Mandela urged the rest of the world to “fight racism, wherever it occurs and whatever guise it assumes” (Nelson Mandela-Nobel Lecture). As the country’s first black president, Mandela is well-liked amongst his peers and counterparts in other countries and his monumental success has further fueled inspiration for other leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama (Nakamura & Sudarsan, 2013).
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York : Bantam.
Kuhnert, K.W. (1994). Transforming Leadership: Developing people through delegation. In B. M. Bass & B. J. Avolio (Eds), Improving organizational effectivenss through transformational leadership (pp.10-25). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
President Obama reflects on Nelson Mandela’s legacy, South Africa’s past. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/president-obama-reflects-on-nelson-mandelas-legacy-south-africas-past/2013/06/29/9b9ed570-e0a6-11e2-8ae9-5db15d3c0fca_story.html
Nelson Mandela – Nobel Lecture. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013. Web. Accessed Jun 30, 2013. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1993/mandela-lecture_en.html
Nelson Mandela. (2013). The Biography Channel website. Web. Accessed Jun 29, 2013. http://www.biography.com/people/nelson-mandela-9397017.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership:Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.