Barack Obama speaking at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service said “And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man”. What a fantastic example of Mandela’s ability to inspire.

Much has been written about his life and we know the story well, but what was it that gave Mandela such an extraordinary ability to persuade? Yes he was persistent and focused on his goal but what else?

The best glimpse of that secret ingredient comes from John Carlin, Mandela’s biographer writing in the Sunday Times. He said ‘Mandela treated everyone with respect, leavened with a suggestion of flattery, sprinkled with a dash of courtesy.’

‘It got Mandela a long way. He doled respect out to everybody in equal measure irrespective of their station in life it didn’t matter if he was dealing with royalty, with foreign heads of government, with generals who planned to go to war against him, with gardeners, with flight attendants with the unemployed or even with journalists.’

There is a lesson for us all here – Mandela understood that respect is not something you earn, it is something you give. Combine that with rock hard integrity, his conspicuous lack of bitterness and that thousand volt smile and you have a recipe for persuasion. Others called him a brilliant salesman, a leader who led.

An inspirational leader at work

If you get the opportunity watch Clint Eastwood’s 2009 biographical movie Invictus, which is based on John Carlin’s book, Playing the Enemy. Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation. It tells the story of South Africa’s successful attempt, against the odds, to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which they are hosting.

The stand out moments for me are when Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) asks to meet the Captain of the Springboks, Francois Piennar (Matt Damon) and says to him “What is your philosophy on leadership? How do you inspire your team to do their best, to be better than they think they can be?” The whole movie is a great illustration of the importance Mandela attaches to inspiration.

But the second stand out is just as striking – during the meeting one of his assistants Mrs Brits brings in the tea and Mandela says to her “Ah Mrs Brits you are a shining light in my day”. He takes the time to make her feel terrific.

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Watch a short clip from the movie Invictus.

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