Nelson Mandela – lessons we can learn from an emotionally intelligent leader

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We recently passed the anniversary of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, and at that time it seemed as though the whole world was reflecting on his impact. In my view, one of the most important aspects of Mandela’s personality was his emotional intelligence, and it’s something that I strive to learn from.

Mandela served 27 years in jail, in the notoriously vicious prisons of the apartheid era in South Africa, but he was able to use this experience for the positive. Biographer Anthony Sampson writes that during his time in jail, “he developed the art of politics: how to relate to all kinds of people, how to persuade and cajole, how to turn his warders into dependents and how to become master in his own prison.”

This is no mean feat. Most of us would fold under this immense pressure, but Mandela’s emotional intelligence helped him to rise to the occasion and prepare himself for a life of politics and to continue his human rights activism. So, if like me you’re keen to build your own Nelson Mandela sense of EQ, try focusing on developing these following points.

  • Self-Awareness – A strong sense of self-awareness helps you to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses, and use them to identify with and understand others. Rather than baulk at the first sign of adversity, your self-awareness will propel you to examine your own role in a situation and make the necessary changes to succeed.
  • Social awareness – Your social awareness allows you to understand others by coming from a place of empathy, compassion and engagement. Always remember the old adage, ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’ and try to think about how they feel. Just as you can empathise with someone on an individual level, you can also empathise with a group. A sense of social awareness will massively improve your leadership capabilities.
  • Self-management – While they may not feel like much fun, self-control and discipline are key components of good leadership. In those moments when you simply don’t feel like setting a good example, you need to be able to motivate yourself to always do your best and go the extra mile. After all, if you don’t do it, why would your employees?
  • Relationship management – A true leader has the ability to bring people together and unite them towards a common goal. If your team is not confident in your skills, motivation and leadership, they are never going to work to their own potential as a group. Uniting people from a variety of backgrounds, skill sets and belief systems is the sign of a true leader, and Mandela did this with aplomb. Now it’s your turn to be inspired to do the same.

Nelson Mandela was one of the 20th century’s truest heroes, and we can learn so much from his leadership capabilities. Reflect on what you can do today to emulate his example.