Nelson Mandela's leadership

2009-05-20 20:05
<b>(Siddique Davids,</b>

(Siddique Davids,

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Johannesburg - Nelson Mandela's face became synonymous in his lifetime with a legendary, almost super-human devotion to nobleness of spirit and reconciliation.

Such was the admiration accorded him that his rather strange, staccato way of speaking became a feature of his style rather than a stumbling block.

His innate decency, the interest he showed when listening to people and responding with light-hearted stories at his own expense, and his ability to remember details of ordinary people ("How is your sister's baby?" he would ask a bemused journalist), and his impeccable manners combined to make him a leader of peerless charisma.

In 1947 sociologist Max Weber wrote that a charismatic leader was someone whose influence did not depend on traditional or formal delegation of power, but on the perception of his followers that the leader possessed extraordinary qualities and skills.

While this is partly true of Mandela, he didn't quite fit Weber's definition, because the sociologist also held that charismatic leaders usually proposed radical solutions for difficult situations and Mandela consistently ruled by consensus rather than prescript.

RJ House, a well-known writer on leadership, says the influence that charismatic leaders exercise on their supporters is more comprehensive than other political leaders because they are also recognised as moral examples.

In his book Leadership in Organisations Gary Yukl writes that, because of this influence, the behaviour of a charismatic leader's followers can rise above the ordinary.

Truly charismatic leader

Professor Tom Lodge of the University of the Witwatersrand's department of political studies believed that Mandela was by definition a truly charismatic leader.

He was able to communicate with people almost at a spiritual level, and enjoyed veneration far beyond the normal, rational support that politicians usually enjoy, according to Lodge.

"He didn't exactly keep his finger on every button, but it wasn't needed. He had to get people to work together and find support for a new way of doing things."

Lodge said there was frequent criticism during Mandela's leadership that there wasn't enough emphasis on the detailed application of policy. It was believed his successor would have to deal with these aspects.

"When President Thabo Mbeki took over, it was thought he would be more decisive and turn policy into practice to a greater extent. Mbeki, however, wasn't more effective and Mandela was more certain in his actions, so I think in this respect, the criticism of Mandela was over-emphasised."

Lodge pointed out that the country didn't need a leader who meddled with everything, and that this was still the case.

"Mandela was able to give South Africa credibility. Internally, the way people viewed the government was much better at the time of his retirement than it is now, so he fared very well," said Lodge.

Pity he only served five years as president

Professor Daan Wessels, head of the department of political science at the University of the Free State, says there is no doubt that Mandela's charisma strongly complemented his leadership role.

"In summary, one can say that it was a great pity he only served five years as president, and not the 27 years he was in prison as well," said Wessels.

"Although he was a very charismatic figure, the quality of his leadership should not be confused with his charisma. Not only does he meet Weber's definition of a charismatic leader, he also encapsulates traits that are usually associated more with traditional and constitutional leaders."

Wessels expressed regret that Mandela only became president at such an advanced age, because had he done so when he was younger, he could have acted with even greater zeal and vigour.

"Nevertheless, I can think of no person more suited to the task of running South Africa in that period. Even though his finger may not always have been on the pulse of the administration, his role was immeasurable because our land at that time was a recipe for chaos. He created stability."

On the view that Mandela was at times not strict enough in managing his public officials, Wessels said this may to an extent have been true, but in weighing his effectiveness as a functionary against the task of reconciliation, the latter took precedence.

Vision, reality, courage and ethics

According to Mario Denton, senior lecturer in human resources at the University of Stellenbosch, it was advisable to measure Mandela's term against four dimensions of his leadership: vision, reality, courage and ethics.

"Vision is a prerequisite for transformational leadership such as that required of Mandela. His was a vision honed over at least 27 years before it was put into practice. Mandela's vision was exemplary," Denton said.

"It would appear that his policy was realistic, although an opinion on that would depend in part on one's frame of reference and the transient spirit of the time. At this stage, it appears that his policies were realistic and could be translated into reality. Mandela also displayed a great deal of courage. No matter what sacrifices it required of him, he stayed on course."

Although he regards Mandela's personal ethics as irreproachable, Denton has more questions on the durability of his political ethics. Given that after 1994 the new dispensation first had to stabilise, then normalise, and finally be managed with a long-term view Denton says Mandela's style was imminently suited to the first two phases, but not the third.

"Reconciliation is vital, but it should be supported by the knowledge that the government doesn't tolerate deviant behaviour. South Africa is already paying a price for the fact that Mandela, possibly because of his conciliatory nature, did not express himself strongly enough on unacceptable behaviour," said Denton.

Examples of this were his statements on the trial of the Lockerbie suspects and the Zimbabwe election, where "voter preference" had to enjoy priority, according to him, amid overwhelming indications of pro-Mugabe jiggery-pokery.

Nevertheless Denton's final score-sheet is positive.

"President Mandela was managing a great deal of spiritual development in South Africa, partly by creating a culture of confession and forgiving.

"He was a very successful president, especially for the spiritual era of his term of office, and also because he was prepared to relinquish power when his term ended."

Read more on:    nelson mandela

RIP Nelson Mandela

2013-12-06 08:36

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