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Nelson Mandela’s 100 life and leadership lessons for startups


He is a legend, a father and icon of this and many generations to come. I have compiled from various books and authors, one hundred quotes and snippets to help live what we’ve learned from Nelson Mandela in life and leadership in celebration of his 100 year anniversary.

  1. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.
  2. Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure.
  3. Remain true to your principles.
  4. All people are equal and therefore deserving of basic respect and dignity.
  5. Forgiveness makes us stronger and happier people overall.
  6. Embrace diversity in all spheres of society, including the workplace.
  7. Leaders must take accountability for their actions in both the private and public sectors.
  8. Have the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and environments.
  9. While it is difficult to change society, it is even more difficult to change yourself, which is vital to become better at what you do.
  10. Learn and grow as an individual in times of conflict and tough experiences.
  11. It takes people of integrity to build ethical organisational cultures and ultimately create an ethical society.
  12. Life is about building good relationships at the individual and collective level.
  13. You pass through this world once and opportunities you miss will never be available to you again.
  14. Show your leadership during moments of suffering and opportunity.
  15. The human soul and human body have an infinite capacity of adaptation and it is amazing just how hardened one can come to be.
  16. Prove them wrong.
  17. Use your time wisely.
  18. If wealth is a magnet, then poverty is a kind of repellent. Yet poverty often brings out the true generosity in others.
  19. Be humble.
  20. Have heroes.
  21. Take a stand.
  22. Manage your emotions.
  23. Speak with conviction.
  24. Leadership is as much about delivering results as it is about uplifting those who worked and strove with me.
  25. The habit of attending to small things and of appreciating small courtesies is one of the important marks of a good person.
  26. Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.
  27. It always seems impossible until it is done.
  28. If there are dreams of a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to that goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
  29. Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically.
  30. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
  31. I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.
  32. A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.
  33. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it
  34. Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.
  35. The things that are truly worth having in life are usually the hardest to come by. It’s the people who persevere and push through the difficulties who ultimately accomplish what they set out to achieve.
  36. Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.
  37. A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
  38. it’s time for the dawning of a new age — one in which people remember that the same frame of bones lies underneath every person’s skin, no matter the colour.
  39. A good leader can engage in debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger.
  40. It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
  41. There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
  42. Have faith in justice.
  43. Courage will triumph over fear.
  44. With hard work comes progress.
  45. Take pride in your convictions.
  46. Show compassion to everyone.
  47. Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves try to plan every detail of our lives and actions.
  48. One of the things I learnt when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.
  49. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.
  50. If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
  51. When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.
  52. Demand respect.
  53. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
  54. If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
  55. One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.
  56. It is not the kings and generals that makes history but the masses of people.
  57. It is in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it.
  58. I have a special attachment to the people who befriended me during times of distress.
  59. I am not a saint, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps trying.
  60. When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.
  61. The colour of my skin is beautiful, like the soil of Mother Africa.
  62. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion.
  63. We must strive to be moved by a generosity of spirit that will enable us to outgrow the hatred and conflicts of the past.
  64. We must all strive to be inspired by a deep-seated love of our country, without regard to race, colour, gender or station in life.
  65. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.
  66. 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 its opposite.
  67. You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.
  68. A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.
  69. We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.
  70. A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.
  71. Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
  72. Money won’t create success. The freedom to make it will.
  73. Of course we desire education and we think it is a good thing, but you don’t have to have education in order to know that you want certain fundamental rights, you have got aspirations, you have got claims.
  74. History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.
  75. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine.
  76. I am the product of Africa and her long-cherished view of rebirth that can now be realised so that all of her children may play in the sun.
  77. There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.
  78. The children who sleep in the streets, reduced to begging to make a living, are testimony to an unfinished job.
  79. It is an achievement for a man to do his duty on Earth, irrespective of the consequences.
  80. Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.
  81. It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my people became a hunger for the freedom of all people.
  82. To be an African in South Africa means that one is politicized from the moment of one’s birth, whether one acknowledges it or not.
  83. Courage is 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.
  84. The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
  85. The only thing my father bestowed upon me at birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla means pulling the branch of a tree.
  86. I could not imagine that the future I was walking toward could compare in any way to the past that I was leaving behind.
  87. To be a father of a nation is a great honour, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.
  88. We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom.
  89. I have spent all my life dreaming of a golden age in which all problems will be solved and our wildest hopes fulfilled.
  90. When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.
  91. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.
  92. I shall neither impose my own customs on others nor follow any practice which will offend my comrades.
  93. Until I was jailed, I never fully appreciated the capacity of memory, the endless string of information the head can carry.
  94. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
  95. Greed and power have turned brother against brother.
  96. For to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
  97. I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.
  98. Our people have the right to hope, the right to a future, the right to life itself.
  99. 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.
  100. Men and women, all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go. Some leave nothing behind. Not even their names.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa – 22 on Sloane. 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.