Leadership: Unconquered in Spirit - A Tribute to Nelson Mandella


The world grieves at the passing of Nelson Mandela, and at the same time, we draw life inspiration that we too can build a better world through our leadership.  Even upon his death, Nelson Mandela is furthering the virtues of non- violent resistance, forgiveness, and reconciliation with those who have wronged us.  These ideals are contrary to our basic instincts of getting even, using violence as our means to an end, and cutting off those who have wronged us.  Mr. Mandela helped show us the wisdom of a higher way - a way that at first seems counter intuitive, but after deep reflection, becomes a way that seems obvious to bring about sustainable change.

There are many lessons we can take from the life of Mr. Mandela.  The lesson I’d like to pull from the arc of his life, is the purity of his determination to never loose faith, to never give up, and to never let another person determine the content of his character.  As the darkness of prison set in, he focused more deeply on his personal vision.  He had the deepest conviction that at some point, the arc of justice was going to bend in his favor, and he was determined to remain true to his ideals.  It has been said by many people that if you want to accomplish something, you must first expect from yourself.  Mr. Mandela wanted to bring freedom and equal opportunity to all races in South Africa.  He never wavered from what he expected of himself - to be a key part of that change.   

In his memoirs, Nelson Mandela talks about his favorite poem that sustained him in his darkest hours - alone in a prison cell sentenced for life.  I heard the poem recited from memory by Morgan Freeman, who played Mr. Mandela in the movie Invictus.  Invictus is Latin for unconquered.  The movie is named after the poem and was written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley.  It reads:  


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


In essence, Mr. Mandela said to himself,  "As I diligently work to change our culture and to lead a new dawn, let me draw on the wisdom of the ages, that despite all my circumstances, I can still take responsibility for one thing - my own  spirit, my own attitude, and my own plan."  He is so right! If we want to accomplish something extraordinary, we must first expect it from ourself.  As the poet said, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  I refuse to be conquered.