Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela

I recently visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island and feel compelled to share a few of the key lessons I learned with you, a Global Citizen, so you do your part to open up to the hero within you and reclaim your truest private power for the benefit of our world.

Lesson #1: To Lead is to serve

I’ve been sharing this precise message for so many years but being in the prison cell emotionally brought it home as never before. I asked my guide, who spent eight years with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, what this legendary human being was like. The guide paused. Then smiled. Then replied: “Oh, that man was a humble servant.” Beautiful.

In a world that defines success and power via what we take and accumulate, Nelson Mandela measured his worth through what he gave – and who he became. I later learned that Nelson Mandela gave the money from his first paycheck as President of South Africa (which was the same amount as President F.W. de Klerk’s) away to charity.

Lesson #2: Learning brings on freedom

My guide also shared that every time Nelson Mandela would meet a fellow political prisoner he would repeat the same question: Are you studying?” He understood that an educated mind is a free mind. And the way out of confinement begins with unchaining one’s thinking.

I don’t know what condition you find yourself in today. You may be on the peak of your highest summits. Or you may be suffering in the valley of unimaginable darkness. All I know is that the fastest route to make your rise to your very best is through education. Read the books. Listen to the podcasts. Take the courses. Go to the conferences. Have smart conversations. Study.

Because as you know more, you can achieve more.

Lesson #3: Install Grace

It hurt my heart to see a man as great as Nelson Mandela have to sleep on a cold floor for so many of his finest years. It made me pause to stand in the limestone quarry where he would work in the dust (that damaged his lungs) and toil in the glare (that impaired his eyes). It made me stop to see the courtyard where he would walk for exercise and the garden where the manuscript of his autobiography was hidden. I learned of the wretched food he was given. The lack of privacy as he showered and the censored letters, designed to destroy his precious family.

And yet, through those 18 years on Robben Island (and for a total of 27 years in jail), he was always joking with fellow prisoners. He carried a smile. He stood upright. He kept his dignity. And he remained graceful.

I don’t think I’m the same man after this visit. May each of us learn from the legendary leadership example Nelson Mandela set. Our world needs more heroes like him.

By Robin Sharma, #1 bestselling author of “The Leader Who Had No Title”

Robin Sharma is one of the world’s premier leadership experts and the founder of The Titan Summit. To receive more of his training for elite performance go to robinsharma.com