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3 Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela

Feb 21, 2021



"Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people." - Nelson Mandela, 1998

  • "Don't judge a person by their greatest day. And don't judge a person, by their worst day, don't judge them in the moment," Nelson Mandela looked at a person across their lifetime. Only then can you make a summation of what you think that person was and what they brought to the world. 


  • Do you feel any resentment or have a hard time forgiving others? Is it a challenge to let go and live for a better tomorrow?  In this episode, I share how Nelson Mandela, the Father of Forgiveness, forgave and let go to live a better tomorrow. 


  • Currently for many people in the middle of the COVID pandemic, it seems like everything has stopped and there's no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is. Simply embrace the Madiba Mindset. Know that things will improve, know that freedom will return. Faith and hope are essential ingredients to create a brighter future.


  • Hope without action is simply delusion. Be sure that you take action towards what it is that you hope for.


  • Watch the video to get the full training. 


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Inspirational Quotes


 Full Transcript

[The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Life On Purpose with James Laughlin Show. Please note that there may be small moments where grammar goes off track - this is simply due to the fact that the LIVE episode was converted to full long-form transcript.  For weekly motivation, please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Youtube.]


James Laughlin  00:00 

Welcome to life on purpose. My name is James Laughlin, former seven-time world champion musician, and now success coach to leaders and high performers. Each week, I bring you an inspiring leader or expert to help you live your life on purpose. Thanks for taking the time to connect today and investing in yourself. Enjoy the show.  



Nelson Mandela once said, "Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people." He also said "A winner is a dreamer, who never gives up." Now I must share with you that I really, really admire Nelson Mandela, or for those people who follow him, they'll maybe know him as Madiba is a special family name. So, I've been reading and studying Nelson Mandela for a number of years. But last year, at the start of 2020, right before COVID, I decided to choose Nelson Mandela as my leader of choice. And this is something where I picked someone each year to study and read as many books on them and look at as many documentaries or connect with their family so that I can get a greater picture of who they were as a leader. And some of them are still alive, others are dead. But I want to connect and understand what made them great. And on the other side of the coin, I also want to learn where did they fall short? What were their flaws? And it helps me to really reflect on what I'm doing. And helps me to see "Okay, so I've got some strengths here. But man, oh, man, I've got weaknesses here." And it's really great to look at the great leaders study them in depth for a year because you truly learn some amazing distinctions about how they lead themselves, how they lead people around them. And how you can apply all of that to your own business, your own life, your own leadership, your parenting. So, it's super important. I feel the pick a leader that you resonate with, that resonates with you, and study them in depth. Take your time, get as many books and focus on them. So, Nelson Mandela, for those who don't know, he was the former president of South Africa. And before that, he spent 27 years in prison. And he spent that time in prison for political acts of terror that he had committed, because he had such deep belief in what he was fighting for. And he went to prison and spent a lot of that time on a remote island called Robben Island. And on the island, he very, very rarely saw any relatives. And I mean, very rarely, he was bullied, tortured. You know, at one point, he was told to dig a hole by his guards. He was then told to lie in the hole it was shaped like where you would put a coffin. He lay in there, and then one of them peed on him. Like how horrific that one human could treat another human like this? So, he was truly in isolation. And I think it's so important that we think about that, because during this stage of our lives, we're at when this is aired here, we're in the middle of COVID. We're a year in to pandemics and if you guys are a year into quarantining or locking dying or staying at home, social distancing, it's a very unusual and peculiar time. But as with Nelson Mandela, you know, there, there will be a time where things change, there will be a time when we see the light at the end of the tunnel. He did it for 27 years, and he had no idea when it would end. But there's some beautiful attributes that he had as a leader, as a human that really helped him to traverse it. And I wanted to share some of that with you. And if we think of Nelson Mandela, he really fought for a purpose that was much larger than himself. He hooked himself up to a cause that he was willing to die for. And in fact, in his last trial, right before he went to prison, he was able to speak and he spent four hours putting his point across and in his last statement, he said that what he was doing was something he was prepared to die for. And that's powerful. How many of you guys have something in your life a cause or a purpose? that you're willing to die for that you get up Every morning and you're so fired up, and you're excited to follow through to go the extra mile to make that difference. For some of you guys, it might be that you're a teacher and you're teaching your passion and you're impacting others. For others, it could be that you work at a charity that brings you great joy. And you feel significant that you do make a difference in other people's lives. Some of you may be listening, going, Hey, I've no clue what my purpose is. I have no clue what my thing is that I'm hooking up to a bigger purpose. And that's okay. Because that's a process in itself.   



And I would say that the words adversity and uncertainty are just so relevant right now. And adversity and uncertainty. They were Nelson Mandela's everyday life. That's what he had to deal with. He had no idea what was going to be thrown at him from one day, to the next. Each day, in prison, he had no idea what the challenge might be. So, he was constantly living in a state of uncertainty. And for those of you who are impacted and affected by COVID, you know, it's literally troubled and challenged, not millions, but billions of people. And there's sometimes like a sense of hopelessness, despair, and fear. Fear is probably the big one that really comes up. And often we fear what we don't know. And with COVID, we can't see it, right? We can't see it in the air. We can't touch it, we can't feel it. It's the unknown. And it's the unknown enemy that creates so much fear in us. But it's about thinking, Okay, what am I in control of? And that's what Nelson Mandela did for those 27 years, he decided, what can I control? Well, the one thing that his prison warders could not control, was his mindset was his responses to their abuse, he could control that. And that's what he focused on. So, this is all about thinking for you guys who are listening. What can you do during this COVID pandemic to give yourself and your life more meaning? more joy? More purpose. You have to think, what can I do what's within my control?   



So, I'm going to share with you three leadership lessons that over the last year and a bit I've learned from studying the late great Nelson Mandela. I was actually very fortunate, midway through last year, to sit down and interview via zoom. Of course, when I say sit down in COVID, that generally means on an old zoom call, I sat down and interviewed Ndaba Mandela, who happens to be Nelson Mandela's grandson. And Nelson actually raised Ndaba from a very young age. And Ndaba travelled with them learn from him, was on the receiving end of Nelson's quite strict obedience and discipline. So, it was really amazing to learn about his insights. And he also wrote a book around the lessons he learned from his granddad grip book. So, some of you may, if you've read the Long Walk to Freedom, and incredible book, I urge you to go out and buy a few more books. One of my favourites, is called Mandela's way by Richard Stengel, absolutely phenomenal book. So definitely get out there and check out those books. But here's three lessons that I think you will be able to apply. And I know they will make such a difference in your life. Three lessons you could apply to relationships, you could apply to work, business, career entrepreneurship, you could apply to your health, you could apply to the organisation that you want to devote your life to. So, that first leadership lesson if you do have a pen, guys, write it down. But the more that we get active in our learning and our engagement, the more we return, and then we're able to pass that on to others. So, going to ask if you've got a pen or paper or you've got your iPhone out, create a little note.   



These are three epic leadership lessons for life, from Nelson Mandela, number one, make a stand. Right? What I mean by make a stand, is that you've got a stand for something and that age old quote, "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything. Right? If you haven't heard that before, it's so true. If you don't stand for anything, then you're going to fall for things that are thrown at you. Trickery, lies, gossip, all these different things get thrown at us, we have options, but when you stand for something, you won't fall for any old thing. So, write that one done. If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything. So important to stand for something. So, Nelson Mandela stood for equality, equal rights, human rights. That's what he was driven for. It wasn't white-right. Wasn't black-rights, he wanted equal human rights. Truly a beautiful human. And he made it very, very clear to anyone that would listen. That's what he was about. That's what his life was about. And that was his end outcome. Everything else was just a strategy. And he was willing to change his mind on things to do a 180. And flip around and adjust things as his circumstances and environment changed. Nelson, adapted with that. But the one thing he didn't change and the one thing he was relentless on, was his absolute mission, to help his beautiful country of South Africa, become a country where equality across racial divides, was the norm. And that really drove him. So, I want to challenge you and ask you, what do you stand for? What is it that you stand for in life? This is your one shot, we only get a one shot deal when it comes to life. What do you stand for? Is it human rights? Is it equality across the gender divides? Is it people being given equal opportunity? Is it a standard of in your industry that you want to reach the standard make it industry-wide? What do you stand for? Is it that every child is treated with love and respect? I want you to dwell on that. What do I stand for? So important to know who you are and make a stand for that. For me, one of the most important things that I stand for is kindness. Be kind to others. And yes, we can all look back, I can look back on my life and be like, "wow, that was not a kind move". And I think as we change and evolve and grow, sometimes we outgrow people around us. And that can feel like you're being unkind, but you're actually growing, but actually operate from a place of kindness, to give that, then often in return, you receive that. But to me, that's something I stand for if someone is unkind to another. Well, to me, I'm going to stand up and say something. If you don't stand up and say something and be counted, then you're just as bad as the perpetrator. Stand up be counted in I'll share the story with you. So, I was in primary school back in Northern Ireland, I was probably seven-ish years old. And I kind of sat between all the social groups at school, right? I could hang out with the cool kids and fit in. Not too bad. I can hang out with all the rugby jocks and kind of fit in. I could hang out with the nerds and the academics and fit in. And if there were other misfits, I could fit in with them. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed that diversity. I remember this one time, there was a misfit and a lovely young fella and I really enjoyed his company. But I could tell that he was the source of many jokes, and people would pick on him and it just it really frustrated me I would get sad. I would go home as a six or seven years old and be sad. That really pained me to see him be treated like this. So, it was springtime in Ireland. What happens in the spring, well rebirth, the daffodils pop up beautiful yellow daffodils all around the school playground. Loved it. Now, this one day, this poor little fellow was getting bullied. And I just had enough so I went over to the bullies was two of them. So, okay, enough's enough. And I knew these get these guys because we hung out and I kind of moved around all the social circles. So, enough's enough, like that has cut it out. And they said, No. That in no uncertain terms, they told me to go away some colourful language back in Northern Ireland as a kid. So, I said, No, no, that's enough. Like I'm here to stop it. We're done. And I said, No, I says, Look, if you remember the saying, you know, if you say something rude, you're going to get your mouth washed out with soap, right? Remember that as a saying, there was no soap around I said, "Look, guys, if you're going to continue with this, you're going to eat those daffodils." I don't even really know what I was saying was six or seven years old, right? But they carried on. So I took it upon myself. I picked a daffodil ripped it from the ground. And I held this guy down and he munched on that daffodil, and I got marched to the headmaster's office in the headmaster heard the full story. And he ended up giving me a set of drumsticks instead of a detention. And I ended up going on to be a very passionate drummer. And that led me in a totally different direction in my life. And I became a world champion at drumming and got to know my headmaster a lot better after that. But, that moment was a defining moment for me, like I stood up for what I thought was unkind behaviour and I wanted to stop it and did I stop it in the best way? Probably not. But I stopped it in the way that as my seven year old self thought was the right thing to do, and it ended up leading me in a very beautiful path. But as I say, that's one thing I'll stand up for if someone's treating another person unkindly. I don't stand for that. That's not what I stand for. So, that's the first thing I want you to think about is what do I stand for? Make a stand. If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything.  



The second leadership lesson is think long game, Think long game. Right? Nelson Mandela, led a very long life. And a large part of that was in prison. He was behind bars. He was in a remote island. And in fact, what they had to do at times was they were in a line quarry. And that's part of the work that they would have to do. He worked there for so long, that the lime, the dust actually got into his tear ducts, to the point where his tear ducts would no longer work. He couldn't cry, he couldn't express that beautiful emotion as a human that we have to cry. And how awful is that, that a human has to experience that. And that's hard labour work. That was hard enough as it was. It created this awful infliction where he couldn't express his true emotions. So, when he got emotional, he couldn't physically cry, because tear ducts were blocked. Incredibly sad. So, he led this life that was long and rich, but challenging, and there was low lows, but there's also high highs. And the one thing that I really take away from Nelson, and he says, "Don't judge a person by their greatest day. And don't judge a person, by their worst day, don't judge them in the moment," he has looked at a person across their lifetime. And then you can make a summation of what you think that person was what they brought to the world. And if you had a judge Nelson, just before he went to prison, as a young, fiery, passionate activist, who was creating an inciting violence, then you may have had a different opinion, compared to the Presidential Nelson who was bringing people together. And he was the father of forgiveness. He had such a huge heart. He forgave those who were his prison wardens. Forgave those people who treated him incredibly, incredibly badly. But he had this power of forgiveness. So, I know when I look at Nelson Mandela, I see this incredible individual, this bar that I would like to set as my standard aim towards, I may never reach there, but it's amazing to have a bar like that. And he talks about when you are interacting them with the people around you don't judge them on right now because they've got a whole lifetime of ups and downs. Focus on your own garden before you start tending to other people's. And thinking long game applies to your relationships, your business, COVID. Think long game. We're right now in the middle of COVID, it seems like everything has stopped and there's no light at the end of the tunnel. But there is. Have that Nelson Mandela mindset. Know that things will improve, know that freedom is going to come back. It's having that faith, and that hope that helps us through those tough times. So, think long and think it with COVID, think it with your relationships. If you're going through a tough time with a relationship or you've parted ways with someone. Just know. Life is long and beautiful. And if you're blessed with many years, you've got opportunities to cultivate new relationships, to mend old ones that maybe went south. But just think, long game don't think right in the night all the time. And I know we're told be present be in the now. But sometimes being in the present and being in the now, isn't all that pleasant. So, think about Hey, things are tough right now. But tomorrow is another day. 2021 is another year 2022 is another year. Think hope, think future. Think long game.   



And the third lesson. This leadership lesson that really Nelson has imparted with me is live for a better tomorrow. Right? Live for a better tomorrow. Because today you've hopefully brought your best and I have no doubt if you're listening to this podcast. You are the type of person who endeavours to bring their best every single day. I know that. Live for a better tomorrow. Live with hope. Take action and forgive quickly. Those are really key elements of living for a better tomorrow, to hope that things will improve, to hope that people will be resourceful and resilient, to hope that your governments and your hospitals will make great decisions, to hope that your customers will continue to support, but hope has got to be backed by action, hoping that things are going to be great and wishing and praying. That's step one, that's visualisation. The next part of that is take action, execute on those hopes, so that you give yourself so much more opportunity to live a brighter future. And when you live a brighter future, you create that for your family, for your loved ones, for your community, for your workplace. Think about the action that you take, or possibly the action you don't take. And what's going to help you to continue to be consistent with that rhythm. It's about developing a rhythm, a rhythm of showing up, a rhythm of being hopeful, a rhythm of learning what didn't go well today, "okay, I'm going to execute on that and improve upon that". And lastly, as part of that living for a better tomorrow, forgive. Forgive quickly. And I'm sure there's times in your life where you've been, you know, you've been challenged, someone's done wrong by you, someone's cheated on you, someone's possibly abused you. One of the greatest ways to take the weight off your shoulders, is to forgive. And that doesn't mean that you need to go to the person and verbally tell them you can forgive them at a cellular level. Within you can say I forgive them, and let it go. Now, I'm not saying forget, because sometimes it's important that we remember. And if some people don't improve and develop, they're possibly going to do wrong by us again. So, you don't have to forget, but you can forgive. And it's powerful, really, really powerful.   



So, I hope that those three leadership lessons you can think about, you know, how do they apply to my life, you know, the making a stand for something, thinking long game, and living for a better tomorrow. Three simple, yet profound lessons in leadership, from the one and only Nelson Mandela, what a great man. And I urge you go out there and buy one of his books. Amazing lessons to be learned in there and apply what you can. And in fact, guys, please come over and join me at jjlaughlin.com. Laughlin is spelled L - A - U - G - H - L - I - N, So, www.jjlaughlin.com/blog. And in there, you can join my weekly mailing where I send out success strategies to you. So, please do come and join that. Join in the fun. And while you're here, if you've enjoyed the show today, please, please, please subscribe to my podcast, rate it and leave a review that will help me to reach more people and get this message out. And if you've truly enjoyed it, please hit the copy link. And share that with a friend share it with two friends who might love to learn about these lessons from the late. great, Nelson Mandela. Thank you so much for showing up today. Thank you so much for listening in today and investing in your own personal growth. Please hit that subscribe button. I would love love love. If you leave me a rating and review as it really helps me impact more people. I've got some amazing guests lined up in the coming weeks. And folks, it's that time. Get out there and live life on purpose.