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Nelson Mandela’s balancing act

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Reporters who covered Nelson Mandela never doubted his courage, vision or greatness of spirit, but some felt his eulogies elevated him to sainthood, overlooking his practical side.

Little more than 100 days into his presidency, the South African leader had tamped down the expectations of his revolutionary allies and reassured white business owners that their mines, farms and factories were not going to be confiscated.

Before the election, he had approached 20 of the country’s corporate leaders and asked each one for at least a million rand—about $275,000—to back his campaign. He remained in their debt and could not have won the election without funds.

Mandela still believed in equality and respect: Visitors to his presidential chamber were asked to shake hands with the woman who brought their tea.

But he had entered the executive class. Leading a country required him to be coolheaded, ambitious and practical.

— Adapted from “The Lives They Lived,” Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine.

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