Nelson Mandela

What Nelson Mandela Taught Us About Seeing The Bigger Picture

Today marks year 3 since we lost one of the greatest leaders to have ever walked the planet earth, Nelson Mandela. Affectionately known as Madiba which means father, he certainly served as a father figure for many across the globe. Personally, he was (and still remains) a big influence in my life. I have spent countless hours studying his leadership style and one thing always stood out to me. His ability to see the bigger picture. This for me, was his greatest strength as a global leader. Here are some examples of Mandela understanding the bigger picture:

He Found Freedom In Forgiveness

It's no secret that Mandela spent 27 years in prison and just for context, I am 27 years old now and I can't imagine spending that much time in close to solitary confinement like that. For many, being imprisoned for this long will implant seeds of bitterness and vengeance but Mandela chose to see the bigger picture upon his release.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” –Nelson Mandela

He showed the world what true forgiveness was like by fully forgiving his opponents even though he was now in a position of power over them.

Mandela used the four years after he left prison in 1990 and prior to the election to bring parties from different ethnic groups together. He created environments for open discussion among groups that had fought each other for years because he realized that the bigger picture here was unity and that if South Africa was ever going to be great, everyone needed to have a seat at the table.

This was evident in how he played a big role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was formed by the new South African government in 1995. Its goal was to help heal the country and bring about a reconciliation of its people by uncovering the truth about human rights violations that had occurred during the period of apartheid. Its emphasis was on gathering evidence and uncovering information—from both victims and perpetrators—and not on prosecuting individuals for past crimes, which is how the commission mainly differed from the Nürnberg trials that prosecuted Nazis after World War II.

He helped bring together whites and blacks to help shape a better tomorrow. This is something we can all learn from. Don't run away from what you don't understand. Rather, seek to give everyone a voice and work out a solution from there. 

One could say his 27 years in prison in a way saved him. It gave him time develop his leadership style as well as a new perspective. He became someone with a willingness to open his heart, mind and soul to the problems that existed around him. He allowed himself to develop a space for change and therefore better understanding. 

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society but to change yourself.” -Nelson Mandela

He was focused on goals and a mission beyond himself: 

Even before Mandela went to prison, he had a deep sense of purpose and his purpose was not about him. Take a listen to his speech at the opening of his trial for sabotage in Pretoria on April 20, 1964.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

This was something he continued to live by everyday until his death. For him the big picture was ensuring that true equality existed. His ability to understand his role in the grand scheme of things was remarkable. It didn't matter what happened to him as long as his fellow countrymen and women got to experience better lives. He wanted to ensure that the next generation did not experience the hardships his generation went through and so he continued to fight. 

He Knew How To Find Unity In Global Moments

Part of being a great leader is recognizing opportunities and Nelson Mandela did this often. Perhaps his most famous example of this was during the 1995 Rugby World Cup final when South Africa was playing against New Zealand. Up until that point, rugby in South Africa was a direct symbol of apartheid. It was a primarily white sport and many black South Africans actively rooted against the team.

However, Mandela saw things differently. To him, he saw the moment as an opportunity to bring the nation together. His advisors disagreed vehemently but alas, he walked on to that stage where millions all over the world watched him draped in the Springbok Jersey which had been the symbol of hatred for so many and walked out to South Africans of all races chanting: Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!. I talk about the moment and the other ways he was open minded in the video below:

Journalist and author John Carlin said,

"It was far, far, far more than a sporting event, I've never come across a more politically significant, emotional ... moment then what was witnessed at the World Cup."

Today is December 5. A day I will never forget. Even though Mandela died three years ago, his spirit lives on today. Let us learn how to see the bigger picture in our global world. 2016 has shown us that a lot of work that still needs to be done to give everyone a voice but let Nelson Mandela be a reminder to you all that unity is possible and that we can all truly use our differences to make a difference. Thank you Madiba!

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Tribute To Nelson Mandela

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela


I never got to meet him. I never got to see him and I never got to speak to him but he touched my life in more ways than one. You see Nelson Mandela has always been the paragon of a true man of character to me.  


It was sometime between 2001 and 2003 when I was struggling with fitting into middle school in a new culture with new demographics. Prior to this, I had never gone to school with people of different races so you can imagine the amount of culture shock and inferiority complex I was feeling back then. Constant thoughts of "am I good enough to be among these people?" and "what do I have to offer?" crept into the back of my mind. I remember repeatedly going back home feeling despondent because of how odd I felt. I remember my mom saying to me "you're just as good as any of them Tayo." And yes that made me feel better but that good feeling was always ephemeral and then I stumbled upon a biography of Nelson Mandela and the rest as they say was history.

I would go on to read up on him. Study him. And every time I did, I kept coming back to one number. The number 27. Yes 27! "How can one man spend that many years in prison and not give up on his dream of seeing a united South Africa." "How can he not feel hate after that?" I would constantly say to myself. But this man didn't. Instead, he did quite the opposite as you all know. He sacrificed himself for what he believed in and for the greater good of his country. Even now at the age of 24 I still have not lived as long as he was in prison. That's just insane! He must have had an incredible amount of inner strength and faith to push through all those years in virtual solitude. That resonated with me and all of a sudden I didn't feel so inadequate anymore. I understood that if we understand our life's purpose and remain steadfast in our approach, then nothing can dampen our light. I realized then, as a person that I had just as much to offer as anyone. Another important thing happened to me then. My life's mission was established. I needed to leave this world a better place than it was before I came in it.

Armed with this knowledge, I started to learn as much as I could from him. Here are the five things he taught me:

Strength and Courage: Mandela once said "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." He taught me that it was OK to be imperfect because our imperfections make us who we are. We just need to be brave enough to pick ourselves up every time we fall because after all once we are down the only way is up. 

The Power of Sports: It's no secret that I am a sports fanatic but few people know to what depth my fandom goes to and why. I love sports for much more than the enjoyment factor of it. I believe sport is one of the biggest equalizers we have in this world right now. It has the power to bring many people together and unite them in amazing ways. Don't believe me? Just take a look around during the World Cup or the Olympics and you see all sorts of people banding together. In my country, Nigeria there are constant rifts between ethnic groups but during every World Cup or African Nations Cup, I see people of different ethnic groups hugging and laughing all the time like they have known each other since childhood. Another example of this comes from Mandela himself when he appeared out of the tunnel during the 1995 rugby World Cup. He surprised a predominantly white crowd by shaking the hands of all the South African players while wearing the national Springbok jersey. Instead of the animosity one had come to expect in South Africa during that period between white and black people, the stadium erupted with chants of Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son! Such a powerful moment in history! (Go watch Invictus to see this moment in film!)

Equality: No one is better than any other person. As I said earlier I had a moment in my life when I had an inferiority complex because I was thrust into an environment with people of different races. Once I broke down the walls of insecurities I surrounded myself with in middle school, I realized that I had just as much to offer as anyone else. Ask me now what my pet peeves are and I will tell you without hesitation racism and condescending behavior.   "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it's opposite."— Nelson Mandela     

Self belief: As Nelson Mandela said "it always seems impossible until its done". That is really all that needs to be said. I have found that I have consistently surprised myself when I have adopted this mantra.

The Power of Education: While I believe that sports is one of the biggest equalizers in today's world, my opinion is that education is THE greatest equalizer. Education comes in all sorts of forms whether it is via documentaries, reading books or traveling around to experience different cultures. "Education is the greatest weapon one can use to change the world" as Mandela would say. I believe that education needs to start from birth because the youth are the future and if they are taught the right way then the likelihood of creating great leaders increases.

I loved this man as much as you could love anyone from afar. And as an African he meant a lot to my beloved continent AND to me. He paved the way for people all over the world to appreciate the content of people's characters instead of their outward appearances. We lost an icon. We lost a legend and I just want to express my gratitude in some way. Even right now as I am fighting back tears, I know you have made me want to be a better man and leave my permanent footprint in the sands of time as a difference maker and for that I say thank you Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Rest In Peace Sir.

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