The keys to leadership, from one of the best sources

Nelson Mandela is one of the most inspirational leaders of our time.  Besides enduring 27 years in prison, he brought his country into a new era of democracy through savvy tactics (including leveraging his country’s rugby team to unite all people, ala the movie Invictus). In a recent article by the author of Mandela’s biography from a few years ago (Richard Stengel) reflected on some lessons in leadership he had gleaned through his interactions with South Africa’s ex-president.  In reading the 8 rules outlined, I was struck by their simplicity but also their effectiveness.

One of Mandela’s rules on leadership that stuck out was number 3, “Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front.”  This quality was rooted in Mandela’s youth herding cattle and having to control a large group of livestock while the wavered in front of you, wanting to roam off in every direction.  It has been said that true influence is when you get someone to agree with your thinking or act in a way you want them to with the other person thinking it was his idea.  The same is true for leadership. It is not about standing in front of everyone and telling them how to think. It is about inspiring them to think for themselves and to think for the betterment of everyone.  When you get someone to believe in what you believe and you motivate them to act in support of the common goal, you are truly exhibiting effective leadership.  The other core to this lesson was in building consensus. It isn’t just about you getting your way. It is about finding ways to “expand the pie” so that everyone wins and feels like their voice is heard.  The idea of not coming into a debate too early, also referenced, is an interesting thought as well.  Mandela was able to extract everyone’s viewpoints and then look for a mutually beneficial solution (negotiation at its best).

Stengel mentioned that, “Mandela would simply listen. When he finally did speak at those meetings, he slowly and methodically summarized everyone’s points of view and then unfurled his own thoughts, subtly steering the decision in the direction he wanted without imposing it.” This is where the artistic portion of leadership seeps through. Injecting his own ideas and influencing others to buy into his slant on things/additions, genius. The more I learn the move I am inspired and in awe of this leader who just celebrated his 90th birthday. This leadership lesson also builds on a core concept that I teach to others. Just because you are not the president of a group does not mean you cannot be a leader within.  You can be a leader no matter what role you take on.  Being a leader is understanding where your talents are needed and helping the team reach the common goals at hand. Being a leader is letting others take the lead where necessary and influencing thoughts on what you are most passionate about. Being a leader is standing up for the things you believe in. And when you have the “head role” in the group it is about letting others contribute and bringing out the best in others, from the back of the herd.

I challenge all of us to remember this third rule. Lead from behind and let others take a major role in achieving your goals.

Check out the rest of the Time article:,9171,1821659,00.html?xid=tweetbut

Mr. Biz, OUT.


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About Young Professional's Edge (YP Edge)

Aaron McDaniel is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. He is also the author of the book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World ( Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. Visit his blog, to learn more.

Posted on November 3, 2011, in Solid Advice and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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