These past months I have gained much from reading his Long Walk to Freedom. He was an uncanny leader, one from whom all leaders today could take some advice. Yesterday I was struck by his awareness of his role.
Most leaders reveal by their actions that they believe their role is to lead, to show, to guide, to command, to order, to discipline, to coerce, to rule. They wouldn't put it in so many words, but their actions make their role perception abundantly clear.
Mandela's cell on Robben Island.
During a particularly difficult time on Robben Island Mandela described the political feuding among African National Congress, Pan-African Congress and Black Consciousness Movement. Mandela was the leader of ANC in the prison and a number of ANC members had been brutally beaten by the other groups. It reached the point where a trial was set for the island's administrative court and an outside lawyer was brought in. Mandela was asked to be a character witness for his own members. He was happy to testify for his comrades, but realized that speaking out for them would heighten the bitterness. He reflects:
"I regarded my role in prison as not just the leader of ANC, but as promoter of unity, an honest broker, a peacemaker, and I was reluctant to take a side in this dispute, even if it was the side of my own organization. If I testified on behalf of the ANC, I would jeopardize my chances of bringing about reconciliation among the different groups. If I preached unity, I must act like a unifier, even at the risk of perhaps alienating some of my own colleagues." (p 580)
More than a decade of imprisonment on a windswept island under brutal conditions with insensitive authorities had helped Mandela perceive his role as leader. But this kind of awareness comes from a place deep inside a person. Other men in the same conditions did not gain this level of understanding. As he commented:
"Prison was a kind of crucible that tested a man's character. Some men, under the pressure of incarceration, showed true mettle, while other revealed themselves as less than they had appeared to be." (p. 539)
One of the outcomes of Mandela knowing his role was the positive results of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission initiated during his presidency. If Mandela had not had the reputation of an honest broker and peacemaker, he could not have asked this of South Africa. But he modeled what he requested.
This leads me to ask myself: am I aware of my true role in the Kingdom of heaven? Am I living out of the resources I have gained in the crucible?