Biography of an Ethical Leader: Nelson Mandela

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  • Topic: Ethics, Ethical leadership, Human
  • Pages : 7 (2840 words )
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  • Published : September 30, 2012
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Biography of an Ethical Leader: Nelson Mandela
April 8, 2012

Biography of an Ethical Leader: Nelson Mandela
As we reflect on what it means to be an ethical leader, it is important to study those who represent what being an ethical leader is all about. In selecting an ethical leader to study more closely, what must one consider? My notion was to select someone that represented what an ethical leader is to the most people possible and read what that person has to say about ethical leadership. What about someone who has had many books and articles written about them? What about someone who has movies made about them? What about someone who has been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize? What about someone who may be “the closest thing the world has to a secular saint?” (Stengel, 2008). That person would be Nelson Mandela, who has become a household name throughout the world. Admittedly, prior to this study, I had very limited knowledge about the life of Nelson Mandela. It was more the idea of the man and what he stood for in my mind that has always appealed to me. I knew of his stance against apartheid and racialism in South Africa. I knew that he had spent many years in prison because of his cause. I knew that he had won a Nobel Peace Prize and eventually became the first democratically elected and the first black president of the nation of South Africa. This had all happened prior to my becoming a young man and the subject matter came up on occasion during my middle and high school education. He was a truly inspirational figure. However, his greatest influence on me (at least prior to this study) was his stance on poverty. I grew up under the yoke of poverty and that undoubtedly led to the last ten years of my professional life being dedicated to fighting the effects of poverty through the non-profit agencies that I have been employed with. Over that time, I even took part in and facilitated group programs called Out of Poverty (Lambert & Williams, 1996). Each session, we began with an assembling statement that reminded us that “Poverty takes many forms. It is more than a lack of money and material things. Poverty robs me of my true self, and poverty alienates me from my community. My entire being cries out for liberation from the prison poverty has created for me” (p. 8). I learned that the psychological effects of poverty are far worse than the material ones, and I myself had to overcome them. I had not made any decision to work in the non-profit industry on a permanent basis, but in 2005, after about 5 years working at a homeless shelter and a domestic violence program, I heard Nelson Mandela speak on the subject of poverty. Mandela’s speech was presented in London on behalf of a campaign to end poverty, especially in the developing world. Part of his speech was quite profound and his words have stuck with me ever since: “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings… And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” (“In Full,” 2005). Coming from a man that had sacrificed much in his life to succeed in leading his nation to the end of apartheid, the idea that poverty could truly be eliminated became an attainable goal that I knew I wanted to take part in achieving, however small my role. Conversations with Myself (Mandela, 2010) caught my attention because of its publicity and the fact that the foreword was written by Barack Obama. I had heard that it was an excellent book, filled with the contemplations of a great man. However, it was much less of an autobiography than I had anticipated. At first, this worried me and I thought that may need to read a different account of his life if I was to understand the meaning of his letters,...
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