Author:  Kerubo Abuya, originally published December 22 2013 {see link below] and is republished here with permission from the author, cross-posted January 13 2104

"A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before."

 ~ Nelson Mandela from a personal notebook, 16 January 2000” as posted on the Nelson Mandela Facebook Page on December 5th 2013.

This was the statement on my mind as I retired to bed on December 5th 2013. I had just shared this message from the Nelson Mandela Facebook page at about 9:45 pm (Kenyan time) as my Facebook status as well as emailed the same to a group I have been working with on organizational effectiveness and leadership. I awoke on December 6th to a text message on my phone from my brother Tamaro that Madiba had died. I immediately tuned in to the news and spent most of the morning catching up on the passing of apartheid freedom fighter and former President of South Africa, Elder Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

The Nelson Mandela Facebook page shares that "Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela." Mandela died on December 5th 2013 at the age of 95. As Mandela shared in his autobiography, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and through The Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson is a name he was given by his teacher Miss Mdingane on his first day of school. While I did not know Mandela personally and never met him, the news of his passing brought great sadness to me. I imagine that this was so because  his leadership, unwavering commitment to social justice and activism in fostering systems and conditions that consistently uphold human dignity and human rights deeply resonated with me and continue to inspire me.

My first memory of Mandela is from my teenage years while I was in secondary school in Kenya. For a long time I wondered why I had not learned about Mandela before my teenage years. I now realize that most of us did not have access to the internet in the 1980s to enable the kind of information access and sharing we enjoy today. Also, the leadership in Kenya wasn’t exactly supportive of the African National Congress (ANC), the party that Mandela belonged to and led for many years. It is well known that the Kenyan leadership at the time did not take a committed stand to support the struggle for black and colored peoples’ liberation from the apartheid regime in South Africa. I have since learned that some of my contemporaries in Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria and some other African countries had a different experience and understanding of what was really happening in South Africa, largely because their countries' leadership unapologetically supported the liberation struggle in South Africa.

Like many of my age mates in Kenya at the time, I came to learn about the horrors of apartheid after watching movies like "Cry Freedom" and "Sarafina". It seemed unfathomable that such an oppressive system actually existed in Africa or anywhere in the world for that matter. It did not make sense to me that there was no collective outrage and uproar in my country about this situation. I wondered why our history books did not talk about apartheid in South Africa. I wondered why our teachers did not say anything about it and I also wondered why there were no conversations in many spaces I inhabited about the situation in South Africa. Since I could not find answers to these questions, I sought to learn as much as I could about the situation in South Africa, Mandela and other freedom fighters on my own. It was around this time - just before and during my undergraduate years - that I came to learn more about slavery and the civil rights movement in the United States of America. We had learned about the Transatlantic slave trade but not about the experiences of African people that had been enslaved in the Americas, West Indies and other places. Strange indeed it was that our history books were so Eurocentric that they focused more on the European explorers, missionaries and slave traders and mentioned not a single name of an enslaved person. The first enslaved African’s name I learned of was Kunta Kinte from the TV mini-series "Roots" a "… dramatization of author Alex Haley's family line from ancestor Kunta Kinte's enslavement to his descendants' liberation."

I vividly remember that February day in 1990 when Mandela was released from prison. The celebrations and outpouring of emotions the world over feel very present. While Mandela was one of many that played an important role in the struggle for the freedom and liberation of black and colored people in South Africa, I marveled at the possibility that one human being could so deeply believe in a cause and have the courage to be prepared to die for it. Mandela’s speech on that day had a lasting and profound impact on me. Let us also remember and celebrate people like Bantu Stephen Biko who also were prepared to die for this cause and actually lost their lives in the struggle at the hands of their oppressors.

My involvement with a professional theatre group in Nairobi, 'Theatre Workshop Productions' in the early-mid 1990s along with other activities that I participated in during my undergraduate years as a literature major student and performing artist further exposed me to some aspects of what life was like for black and colored people in South Africa during the rule of the apartheid regime. Plays likes Athol Fugard’s "Siswe Banzi is Dead" and "The Island" provided some perspective on the morbid and raw reality of the apartheid experience for black and colored people in South Africa. My interest in social justice grew stronger as I learned more about what was happening in South Africa. This process in 1998 inspired me to focus on Nelson Mandela for purposes of the final project of one of my Technical and Professional Communications graduate program courses.  After reading Mandela’s autobiography “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and watching a documentary with the same title, I learned that one of the reasons Mandela gave for leaving the village for the city as a young man was that he was "running away from an arranged marriage." This and other things from that 1998 project still stand out for me, and I have continued to take great interest in Mandela’s story and been deeply inspired over the years by the standard he set for leadership not only on the African continent but the world.

Over the past few days following Mandela's passing, many people from different parts of the world have referred to him as an extraordinary human being and leader. Some of our Saybrook University, Organizational Systems (OS) online community conversations with colleagues and faculty over that past few days explored the profound impact Mandela has had on the world. OS colleague Lynn Harrison noted how amazing it is that "one courageous person, can have such a lasting legacy, one that has touched the hearts and minds of people throughout the world." Another OS colleague Deeanna Burleson shared,

  • What struck me over the last few days of hearing of his life before and after prison was that he always was transparent with his struggles and his authenticity; who he was and what he stood for. As he left prison by stating he could hold on to hate and resentment or he could choose compassion indicated this compassionate man actually had possessed those opposite feelings but chose compassion.

Organizational Systems program chair and faculty member Dr. Nancy Southern shared a very powerful poem tribute to Mandela by Maya Angelou. Another OS faculty member  Dr. Kathia Lazslo shared a link to a great article by Martin Kalungu-Banda on leadership lessons we can learn from Mandela quoting, "If there is anything that distinguishes Mandela from other leaders, it is the fact that he made special effort to live by what he believed in." Banda highlights that "What is so extraordinary about Mr Mandela’s style and practice of leadership is that it crosses the boundaries of culture, gender, race, religion and age."

Some of the questions that emerged from our online exchange included exploring what it is about Mandela that made him have such a great impact on people from all over the world? Sharing his reflections on why Mandela and Gandhi were the "inspirations they were", OS student colleague Khwezi Mbolekwa who served on the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, Canada for several years noted that

  • Aside from having the courage to live the belief of their convictions, I believe they did their own personal work. They developed their inner Self to find a way to give full expression to their potential so that they could be servant leaders. They lived to first serve because I believe their mission in life was to be of service to Others... to be in humanity and unity with Others.

As I further reflect upon Mandela’s passing and its implications for the leadership discourse around the world, I cannot help but want to reinforce what Mbolekwa shared on the need for leaders to do "Self" work. Remarks made by many people from different parts of the world in different forums during the days leading up to and after Mandela’s burial on December 15th show an urgent need for many leaders in Africa and other parts of the world to do "Self" work.

I have shared in other forums that it is deeply unfortunate that despite the great example and inspiration that Mandela has given us for leadership, perhaps many if not the majority of African leaders remain oblivious to the values and ideals that he stood for, lived by, lived for and was prepared to die for. Many African leaders are too busy advancing their inward-looking agendas and have totally missed the point and purpose of what being in leadership is all about – which for many seems to be about abusing power, overindulging in benefits and privilege and deploying command and control tactics with absolute impunity and no regard for upholding our individual and collective human dignity. For these leaders, the call to serve the people that hold them in trust as stewards and agents for change for a better life for ALL is almost non-existent.

Willy Mutunga, Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya and President of the Supreme Court wrote,

  • Nelson Mandela belonged to that exceptionally rare and endangered breed of the African elite that broke vernacular barriers to build a Rainbow Nation. With considerable effort and remarkable foresight, he harnessed diversity into a common nationhood. He built and unfailingly respected democratic institutions, and bequeathed to the world, a progressive and modern model Constitution whose Bill of Rights informed our own. His leadership after apartheid should illuminate our constitutional moment as we struggle to stabilise our politics, law and institutions. By honouring court summons to testify, publicly acknowledging and accepting court orders that reversed his decisions, Mandela personified respect for rule of law, independence of the Judiciary and the principle of separation of powers at a delicate moment of political transition in a fragmented and divided society. By choosing the path of allegiance to law, Mandela cast himself on the right side of history. It made him bigger, not smaller.

Many of the comments shared by people from different parts of the world paint a huge gap or difference between Mandela’s leadership and current leadership. Along with the need for leaders to do "Self" work to help them reflect upon and understand what their role is in leadership, I also imagine that values play a significant role in this process. Leaders must reflect upon the type of value systems they hold and whether they are aligned with the leadership role of being an authentic steward held in trust by the people and with the responsibility of serving others for the greater good of society and consistently upholding human dignity. In this space are core pillars and values that support human rights, gender equality, inclusion, peace, social justice, democratic principles, participation, rule of law, among others that leaders must embrace and operationalize in their personal and public lives.

Gandhi was a great example of a leader that embraced values that consistently upheld human dignity. In his 1994 book "A Higher Standard of Leadership: Lessons from the Life of Gandhi,"  author Keshavan Nair explores Gandhi’s leadership and calls for a “higher standard of leadership” where a double standard of leadership does not exist. Mandela also demonstrated this higher standard through his evolution as a leader and the spaces he occupied in his years before, during and after his imprisonment - embodying leadership as a way of being and not a mere position, role or technique that is selectively performed, enacted, unleashed or deployed within certain contexts.

According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, during the Annual Children’s Celebrations in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 27 September 2003, Mandela noted that "Good wise leaders respect the law and basic values of their society." Mutunga asserts, We must interrogate the construction of our value systems. It is remarkable that Mandela, a man who spent 27 years of his life in prison, kept away from the information superhighway and books, had such clarity of mind on the high principles of democracy, rule of law, humanity, limited and accountable power".

Going back to Mbolekwa’s point on "Self" work, I am reminded of Robert Kegan’s work on "Constructive Development Theory" as an adult development or learning model that, as shared by Turknett and Turknett in their 2005 book Decent People, Decent Company: How to Lead With Character at Work and in Life, centers on the "idea that human beings naturally progress over a lifetime through as many as five distinct stages." Sharing on the implications of Kegan’s adult development stages, Turknett and Turknett note that stage 1 is the "first order of consciousness" where "the very young child has not yet formulated the idea of a permanent, separate self." They outline stage 2 as typically being where "a child or young adolescent understands being differentiated from others, but still pursues mainly selfish goals." They say that at stage 2 "a person can't take the perspective of another, and is driven only by his or her own needs."

They continue to outline that in stage 3 of development which "should come in late adolescence or early adulthood - though it sometimes doesn't, causing major problems," people  are "fully socialized adults, who look to others - the community, family, the organization – as sources of values and self worth." They further assert that at stage 3 people "recognize that others have different points of view, and can empathize with others. But they are enmeshed in the roles and relationships around them, and tend to avoid conflict for fear that it will lead to the loss of esteem either for themselves or for others."

Turknett and Turknett further share that with growth to stage 4,

  • individuals have developed a value system that is truly theirs – a strong, individualized point of view that is self-authored. They have mastered an important skill of balance: they can see and empathize with others, but they can do this from an outside perspective. They have developed their views about the world, and recognize their own power in having done so. [At stage 4 people are] responsible in the truest sense – they understand the power they have to create their own feelings and responses. They understand the source of their own and others’ values. They are much better able to deal with conflict, since they aren’t dependent on others for their self-esteem. They are, at this stage, able to commit to an institution or organization without being engulfed or overwhelmed by it; they can be a part of a group without being dependent on it. They can move beyond self-blame and blaming others to claim the power they have to step outside themselves, observe the situation, and be a force for change in it. They are the authors of their own lives.

Turknett and Turknett describe the last stage of adult development as stage 5 which they say "many of us don't reach." At stage 5 "people can even see the limits of their own value systems. As leaders, people at stage five are most open to ambiguities, most able to perceive and hold polarities in tension, and most concerned with larger systems - not just the corporation, but also the country, or the world. They are most able to focus on the whole". Most notably, the authors differentiate stage 4 and 5 by saying that at stage 4 "an individual has developed a strong, resilient, self-aware ego" and at stage 5 "she or he has developed the humility and the expanded consciousness to move beyond ego."

Noting that "many of us don’t reach" stage 5 of adult development, I cannot help but conclude that Mandela was perhaps one of those that were able to attain this level of development. During our online exchange on the need for more leaders to do 'self work', Mbolekwa shared with me that self work

  • requires some courage and comfort with Self. In doing this work one has to be ready to have that which they hold dear and near challenged, examined, and if necessary, revised or let go. In short one has to be willing to have their world views and possibly self identity shaken. That is no mean feat. From that lens I see the need for self compassion, self forgiveness, self acceptance, and a willingness to stand alone. Again that is no mean feat. Self work also takes patience as it is a journey not a destination; it requires a vigilance of self examination and correction. It also requires patience as the transitions and transformation unfolds.

According to Kegan’s "Constructive Development Theory" and in keeping with Mbolekwa’s thoughts on the implications for "Self" work, Mandela is an embodiment of a leader that must have done a great deal of "Self" work and perhaps attained the highest level of adult growth and development where he "developed the humility and the expanded consciousness to move beyond ego." Along with "Self" work, growth and development, the values and ideals that Mandela espoused, enacted, lived for and was prepared to die for are anchored in a space that consistently seeks to uphold human dignity. It is not surprising that he is being celebrated the world over as the quintessence leader and champion for human dignity, human rights (social, economic and political), forgiveness and reconciliation, equality, freedom, justice, peace, love, compassion, empathy, service, partnership, collaboration, democracy, gender equality, inclusion, women's rights and empowerment, children’s rights, dignity and respect for ALL, among others.

I am therefore reminded that if leaders have not done purposeful soul-searching and have not developed their "Self" to a level that would support their ability to "move beyond the ego", a process that seems to be grounded in a transformative learning space, it would be futile to expect them to embody and operationalize the values, ideals and principles that Mandela upheld; principles that he upheld with his life and for which he was prepared to die. While we understand that we all cannot be Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, or Wangari Maathai we have a responsibility to share our gifts and talents as they did by doing our level best following in their footsteps. We know what is possible, and we can use their example as an inspiration to do even better given that we have better and more supportive social systems and structures that they ever did.

Keshavan Nair shares that "In every field of human endeavor, we search for universal principles that will bring order to chaos. In science we look for unifying theories and laws; in business we look for strategic concepts to guide decision making. To grow as human beings, to guide our conduct, we also look for universal principles: absolute values."

Nair notes that while Gandhi’s basis for absolute values was "undoubtedly religious, he embraced the fundamental directive basic to every religion and culture: to treat human beings as ourselves." He asserts that "absolute values are necessary in every field, whether you are student or teacher, parent or child, manager or employee, politician or constituent." He points out that "leaders, however, have the greatest responsibility" and inquires, "Without the compass of absolute values, what instrument do they have to guide others?"

The question then becomes, how can we as organizational practitioners better incorporate the process of enabling this transformative learning and opportunity for growth and development through "Self" work and integrating the "compass of absolute values" in our lives as well as in our leadership development work?

It has been interesting to note how some leaders and organizational development professionals I have interacted with in Kenya and other places position "transformational leadership" as the ultimate way of being in leadership - which we know falls short on the humanistic values-based dimension of leadership. In my humble opinion, "transformational leadership" that is devoid of embracing values that consistently uphold human dignity is not enlightened leadership.

During the course of some of the leadership development work I have done in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda over the past 2 years with audiences from different parts of Africa, I have been really inspired by the way leaders respond to the possibilities that emerge in embracing a values based "leadership way of being";  a way of being that Mandela so graciously embodied. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to more formally study values based leadership at Saybrook and I look forward to the possibilities of how this can help inform and transform leadership in Africa and other parts of the world.

I believe that along with the great "Self" work demonstrated by leaders like Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, and Wangari Maathai at different points in their lives in service of the other; the value system that they upheld, including their assumptions on what it means to be a leader and to be human, perhaps most significantly contributed in setting them apart from other leaders. This seems to explain a remark Mandela once made as shared by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, "we have now learned that even those that fought beside us in the struggle for freedom can be corrupted." I imagine that, beyond action, the values we uphold in support of the common good as well as our ability to consistently operationalize them, cultivate courage and a strong commitment to this process presents a great opportunity to embody a more meaningful way of being in leadership and in authentic service for the greater good of humanity.

A space where leaders take a stand for humanity! A space in leadership that reminds me that Mandela is an exemplary embodiment of what I call "Bold Leadership for Humanity in Practice":  Leadership at a very high level, that is bold and committed to challenging and transforming an oppressive and unjust culturally embedded system status quo. This is a leadership grounded in humanistic values that consistently upholds human dignity and human rights and is not based on lip service but is grounded in meaningful and tenacious ACTION and PRACTICE for social and cultural transformation, and for justice for ALL human beings, regardless of race, gender, age, class, religious and other categorizations.

I wonder whether it might have been within this space that Mandela so eloquently made the following remarks as shared by the Nelson Mandela Foundation during a Joint Sitting of Parliament to Mark Ten Years of Democracy in Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa on 10 May 2004. Mandela said, "We accord persons dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves."

This way of thinking is aligned with the ideals and principles of humanistic values as well as the African philosophy of Ubuntu. In their 1999 book "Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organizational Improvement," French and Bell outline that "Humanistic values proclaim the importance of the individual: respect the whole person, treat people with respect and dignity, assume that everyone has intrinsic worth, view all people as having the potential for growth and development." In his 2009 book "Understanding Organizational Leadership through Ubuntu", Chiku Malunga defines Ubuntu as the African philosophy of personhood and the essence of what it means to be human. Some examples of African sayings that embody the essence of our interconnectedness that Ubuntu represents are "I Am Because You Are, You Are Therefore I Am" and "A Person is a Person Through Other People."

Further demonstrating Mandela’s "Bold Leadership for Humanity in Practice" grounded in values that consistently uphold human rights and human dignity, the Nelson Mandela Foundation shares that in an address given to the Joint Session of the House of Congress, in Washington DC on 26 June 1990, Mandela emphasized that "To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them."

Mandela also outlined in a speech at King William’s Town, Bhisho, South Africa on 8 September 1992, "Our people have the right to hope, the right to a future, the right to life itself. No power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity. Our land cries out for peace. We will only achieve it through adherence to democratic principles and respect for the rights of all." Mandela is indeed an exemplary embodiment of "Bold Leadership for Humanity in Practice," through actions and practice anchored in a value system that consistently upholds human rights and human dignity for all people.

Mandela’s authenticity, courage and humility along with his emotional intelligence and reconciliatory way of being in leadership, the sacrifices he made and was willing to make in pursuit of the greater good for humanity, show a boldness of leadership in practice to transform a pervasive and culturally oppressive system status quo through committed action by consistently operationalizing the values he upheld even in the face of overwhelming adversity and extreme injustice. Mandela was very aware that, in making choices and faced with uncertainty, leaders must lead and engage the people they serve by touching their hearts and minds.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation reports that speaking at Nobel Square, Cape Town, South Africa on 14 December 2003 Mandela noted, "We were expected to destroy one another and ourselves collectively in the worst racial conflagration. Instead, we as a people chose the path of negotiation, compromise and peaceful settlement. Instead of hatred and revenge we chose reconciliation and nation-building."

I imagine that the value systems that leaders hold greatly influence the choices they make that have far-reaching effects and implications. A process so well reflected in the 2009 movie "Invictus" that depicts Mandela’s great efforts and unwavering commitment to lead with others in uniting an extremely racially polarized South Africa into a "Rainbow Nation" after he become president in 1994.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation further shares that in a letter to Winnie Mandela, written on Robben Island on 23 June 1969, Mandela said, "Honour belongs to those who never forsake the truth even when things seem dark and grim, who try over and over again, who are never discouraged by insults, humiliation and even defeat." He had earlier remarked during his Presidential Address to the ANC Transvaal Congress, also known as the ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’ speech in Transvaal, South Africa on 21 September 1953 that, "To overthrow oppression has been sanctioned by humanity and is the highest aspiration of every free man."

I remain challenged and deeply inspired by Mandela's leadership in my quest to make my humble contribution to humanity through my life work. I stand committed to learn as much as I can from his great example noting that he too was human like all of us but sought ways of enabling social transformation for the greater good of humanity. In this space, I also seek to explore how I can share my learning with others to enable leadership spaces that seek to consistently uphold human dignity.

I am also reminded that many others have been inspired by Mandela. With his permission, I share what OS student colleague Mbolekwa shared with me in relation to the need for leaders to do "Self" work. He notes, "It is my hope to help create spaces for this work in my conversations and in dialogues at work, at home, and at play… and… hopefully in my own small way I can create the awareness of the possibilities on self work with those with whom I interact and in doing so contribute to making this place a little bit better." Mbolekwa further shared that "For all the adulation he remained a humble and self-effacing person. For me Madiba was an exemplar. His impact was global and a shining example of believing in what is possible. And I think we and the world are all a little bit better for it. May we aspire for what is possible in our lives and realize our full potential... in service of the people and planet with whom we share this space".

It has been deeply moving to listen to the powerful tributes people from all walks of life paid to Mandela at the memorial ceremony, state funeral and other forums emphasizing how Mandela has impacted their lives and leadership. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa indicated that "Mandela was an extraordinary human being and there has been so much outpouring of emotion on Mandela's passing, because when people see goodness in a person, they respond by reflecting goodness back at that person and their fellow men and women." President Joyce Banda of Malawi shared that Mandela taught her that leadership is about leaders falling in love with the people they serve and the people falling in love with the leader. President Barack Obama of the USA shared that Mandela makes him want to be a better man.

Hina Jilani celebrated Mandela noting that individuals like him challenge injustice and safeguard the fundamental rights we all share. She further echoed and indeed reinforced what some of us have been saying that Mandela was a champion for human rights and human dignity. During the 20th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day on December 10th, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka urged “world leaders to join forces and prioritize the protection of women's human rights” asserting that "Madiba showed us that none of us are free unless all of us are free. Our hopes for a more just, safe and peaceful world can only be achieved when there is universal respect for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family." A calling that aligns with Mandela’s words during his 90th birthday diner, Hyde Park, London, England on 25 June 2008, "The world remains beset by so much suffering, poverty and deprivation. It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all, especially the poor, vulnerable and marginalized."

Earlier, in a UN Women press release on December 5th 2013 Mlambo-Ngcuka emphasized Mandela’s commitment and support for women’s human rights noting, "In 1995 on International Women’s Day, as women worldwide were preparing for the Fourth World Conference on Women to be held in Beijing, Nelson Mandela spoke out strongly for women’s rights and full participation." She further explained that Mandela "spoke of the struggles of the women over the decades and a rejuvenation of our commitment to strive for a society free of all kinds of discrimination, more especially discrimination against women." President Zuma also reiterated the need to carry on Mandela’s aspirations for a non-sexist and gender equality sensitive South Africa with women’s inclusion and participation in all spheres of life.

The BBC’s Fergal Keane reports that he found people publicly mourning Nelson Mandela in the home town of South Africa's late white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche. Keane noted, “But for all the change of the last 20 years, Ventersdorp was the one place in all of South Africa where I struggled to imagine Afrikaners publicly mourning the death of Mr Mandela. I was wrong. At the Dutch Reformed Church on Cochrane Street, I watched the old and the young stand in silence to remember Mr Mandela.” Keane further notes that Gerrit Strydom, the pastor at the Dutch Reformed Church "believes Mr Mandela taught Afrikaners the value of reconciliation" noting that "After all the years we had him in prison, he could have turned around and made South Africa a bad place for our people. But Nelson Mandela was the one guy who brought people together." Testament that Mandela indeed helped found a Rainbow Nation.

Messages of deep gratitude for Mandela’s contributions to humanity were evident. As also shared on "The Elders" Facebook page, Archbishop Desmond Tutu expressed his gratitude by referring to Mandela as a gift from God to the South African people.

  • God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our President at a crucial moment in our history. He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and so South Africa did not go up in flames. Thank you God, for this wonderful gift who became a moral colossus, a global icon of forgiveness and reconciliation. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Elders is a nongovernmental organization that Mandela founded in 2007 of "Independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights".

Mandela loved children as evidenced by his work through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and other activities that always brought children closer to him. It was awesome to see many children of different ages and racial backgrounds express their gratitude and pay tribute to Mandela. How wonderful it would be if children - not only from South Africa - but other parts of the world learned about Mandela, his leadership and his contribution to humanity. Let us also keep in mind what Mandela once said, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." Children’s rights were always a top priority for Mandela and leaders at all levels the world over should reflect upon how they are addressing children’s rights within our homes, communities, and nations.

There are many lessons to learn from Mandela’s leadership. May we and leaders around the world seek to develop our individual and collective consciousness so that we might be better able to make more meaningful contributions through leadership in full service of humanity. May we be bold in our leadership and remain committed in consistently taking a stand for humanity and our planet. Honoring Mandela’s legacy must include teaching young people about Mandela’s life story as a great leader that took a stand for humanity. We must create spaces for young people to learn about the VALUES and ideals that Mandela stood for and how his ACTIONS helped transform a nation and peoples’ lives. May we aspire to and inspire others to always take a stand for humanity!

Mandela reminds us of what is possible as well as our duty and responsibility to leverage our intrinsic human power and ability to change the social systems that we live in for the better. For instance, Mandela noted that "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. 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." The possibilities for change are real. We have a responsibility as adults to share lessons from Mandela’s leadership with young people to show them what is possible and inspire them to consistently take a stand for humanity in their everyday leadership of self and with others.

Upon learning about Mandela's passing, my 10 year old daughter Sade sent me a message with a "sad face" emoticon saying "Mandela is dead" and set her Skype status to "RIP Mandela". I must say that these actions made me very proud because she already knew who Mandela was; what he stood for and some of the contributions he made to humanity. I look forward to continued conversations with her and other young people about Mandela the leader and what we can all learn from him.

In celebrating Mandela's life we embrace and empathize in totality of the challenges he and the people of South Africa faced as well as acknowledge the great contributions he made to humanity by articulating them and sharing them with others - making them visible within context to help evoke critical reflection, inspiration and application within other contexts. We hold the tension within this space acknowledging the complexity of celebrating one’s life while mourning, honoring, remembering and imagining the possibilities for our lives and social systems. In this space we step into inquiry exploring the inspiration, depth and authenticity that Mandela brings to the leadership discourse - particularly on leaders’ roles in influencing change within our families, organizations, communities, nations and the world.

Having recently re-watched the 1999 PBS FRONTLINE documentary "The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela" I am looking forward to viewing the 2013 biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" with Idris Elba acting as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela. A beautiful, deeply moving and inspiring human story of complexities and possibilities. The triumph of the human spirit propelled by leadership, courage, optimism, empathy, compassion, an uncompromising yearning for human dignity and the promise of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope for humanity.

In conclusion, I would like to share Asimbonanga a musical tribute to Mandela (sang while he was still alive) by Johnny Clegg. I would also like to share the African National Anthem N'Kosi Sikeleli that Mandela held in high regard for its power to make people feel connected, as sung by the late South African musical legend Miriam Makeba along with Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Paul Simon and others. Let us honor and celebrate the life and work of dynamic apartheid freedom fighter, former President of South Africa, departed Elder Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela; also referred to by the South African people as Tata Madiba.

Aaah! Dalibhunga. An authentic “convenor of the dialogue” indeed. How befitting!

Rest in Eternal Peace Rohlihlahla Mandela, Great Son of Africa! Hamba Kahle.

Click here to access this blog at the Saybrook University blog site "Rethinking Complexity".