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3 qualities kept Mandela unbowed

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, working at hard labor in a quarry, with a floor for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. He was allowed one visitor a year — for a half-hour — one exchange of letters every six months.

Mandela didn’t dwell on that. In fact, he treated the experience differently than almost anyone else would, using wit, charm and dignity to overcome even his most brutal jailers. Instead of seeing himself as a victim to whom things “happened,” Mandela built himself into the hero who emerged and led South Africa to democracy.

“If I had not been in prison,” he told Oprah Winfrey in 2001, “I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing myself.”

You’ll never bear a cross like Mandela’s, but you can strive for the same qualities he adopted:
  1. Perspective. Leaders see the big picture despite horrible distractions. They see opportunity in the dark crevasses of life and find the will to move forward, leading others with them.

    Remember: The entire world, with one small exception (you), is made up of others.

  2. Faith. In the words of Mother Teresa, believing that something better lies ahead “keeps the people who keep the faith.”

  3. Adaptability. Leaders with this trait can perceive the context of things and change course. To exploit this capacity fully, you’ve got to be acutely aware of your surroundings and act on the demands of the situation ahead of your own needs and desires.
—Adapted from “The Crucible,” John C. Maxwell, Leadership Wired, www.injoy.com/newsletters/leadership, and “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela,” Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org.

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