Tag Archive for: South Africa

Chris Kolenda Leading with Dignity: Mandela's Lesson for Biden and Us All

Leading with Dignity: Mandela’s Lesson for Biden and Us All

Mandela’s leadership was about choosing dignity over power

I spent the past two weeks in South Africa, our final stop being the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on June 27th. Mandela’s wisdom and grace inspired me. He negotiated a peaceful transfer of power from the delegitimized apartheid government to one that represented all South Africans and launched the Truth and Reconciliation process that followed.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate occurred that evening. The contrast was striking. 

Unlike most developing world leaders who rewrite the rules to stay in control, Mandela stepped down after a single term. 

  1. Commitment to Democracy: Mandela believed sincerely in the principles of democracy and wanted to set a precedent for peaceful and democratic transitions of power in South Africa. By stepping down after one term, he reinforced the importance of constitutional democracy and term limits.
  2. Age and Health: Mandela was 80 years old when he stepped down. Significant factors were his age and desire to spend more time with his family after decades of political and personal struggles.
  3. Leadership Transition: Mandela was keen on ensuring a smooth transition of power. Thabo Mbeki, who had served as his Deputy President, was well-prepared to take over. Mandela supported Mbeki’s candidacy, ensuring continuity and stability for the nation.
  4. Continuing Legacy: After stepping down, Mandela remained active in various social and humanitarian causes. He focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and education through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

By stepping down, Nelson Mandela underscored his commitment to the principles he fought for and ensured that South Africa’s democracy would be robust and resilient in the years to come.

South Africa certainly has its issues today. The African National Congress has been running the country virtually unopposed since 1994 and has become disastrously corrupt. The problem is so bad that the ANC lost significant power in this year’s election, having to share power with the Democratic Alliance.

I’m grateful to President Biden. He visited my Afghanistan outpost in 2008, and in his speeches, he often refers to his visit to the Kunar River Valley. He even mentioned me and our unit in a 2010 speech at the VFW convention. 

Today, he’s stubbornly clinging to power. Aides and family members have systematically misled the public that everything’s fine and that we should not believe our own eyes that have watched the evident mental and physical decline. The debate showed a naked emperor.

He seems to have surrounded himself with people who will tell him what he wants to hear (you’re the only one who can save us) instead of what he needs to hear (it’s time to step down with a secure place in history and set up an appealing successor to win). 

Who benefits from egging him on?

What’s the upshot for you and me? You need trusted advisors who want what’s best for you and will tell you the truth, including when it’s time for another chapter

Departing the scene with dignity, whether by promotion, transfer, or retirement, while setting up your organization to thrive in your absence is among the most significant legacies you can bestow. 

Leaders like George Washington and Nelson Mandela show the way. 

Don’t let your leadership get to this point. Book a call with me so we can create a game plan.