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Portrait of Ndaba Mandela

The Real Mandela Effect: 5 Leadership Lessons from Ndaba Mandela

Next Generation

The Real Mandela Effect: 5 Leadership Lessons from Ndaba Mandela

Mar 4, 2021

Nelson Mandela was many things: social rights activist, politician, philanthropist. But to Ndaba, first and foremost he was a grandfather. We spoke with Ndaba Mandela to discover what he learned from spending 20 years living with a legendary leader.

Few last names carry more meaning than "Mandela." But for Ndaba, Nelson Mandela's fourth grandson, his family name's significance didn't fully hit home until a random encounter in Paris. While visiting the French capital as a youth, he was stopped by the police and asked for ID. Noticing the name "Mandela" on his South African passport, the officers' attitude shifted from suspicion to offering him and his friend an escort anywhere in the city. 

"Okay," Ndaba thought. "Mandela is a serious name in this world. That struck me, I must say. I'll never forget it."

Today, Ndaba is marshalling his family name's power and the importance of his grandfather's legacy as the Founder and Chairman of the Mandela Institute for Humanity, whose goals include developing the next generation of African leaders, eradicating HIV/AIDS, and uniting communities of African descent around the world. 

Here are five lessons that have helped Ndaba achieve real change as an activist and influencer.

1. Follow the path that's right for you

Ndaba's journey to becoming an author and change agent on the African continent wasn't straightforward, despite sharing a last name and home with an inspiring leader. His childhood was defined by poverty and apartheid, and in his teenage years, he struggled in school as he dealt with the painful absence of his parents.  

Ultimately, what put Ndaba on the path to becoming an ambassador for positive change was the realisation that he had his own mission in life which, while inspired by his grandfather's legacy, was by no means defined by it. 

"Let's not do what we do because our father or mother told us to do it. Let's do what we want to do. It all starts with you and your values, what makes you tick as an individual."

2. Seek guidance from people who aren't afraid to point out your mistakes

Although Ndaba believes that choosing a mission begins with the individual, his roots and experience show the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people. Importantly, he says, your mentors and supporters shouldn't be afraid to point out where you're slipping up, and you shouldn’t be afraid to hear their feedback. 

A perfect illustration of this philosophy is when Ndaba took the daunting step with his cousin Kweku to co-found Africa Rising – a foundation dedicated to improving the African continent and how the global community perceives it. 

"We thought of asking him [Nelson Mandela] to become our first honorary trustee, and so we wrote him a letter. I was very nervous because this was a big idea and a new organisation. 

Later that day he said 'Well, I'll join the organisation, but make sure you fix the grammar and spelling mistakes in the letter – then I will sign it.' 

For me, this was a wonderful type of support, because he was saying 'I see what you're doing, I agree with it, but, boy, you've made some mistakes here, so let's fix them and move forward together.'" 

3. To effect real change, understand the root cause

Honest and important feedback comes from your mentors, but Ndaba also sees great value in extending your knowledge network directly into the communities and causes you hope to help. 

"In Africa, we say 'umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,' which literally means that a person is a person through other people. In other words, no one is an island. 

When we're challenged in our communities, workspaces, schools, we first need to understand the root causes and issues.

So, gather the people around you to make sure you understand everything that's going on. There's another African saying that sums this up: If you want to go fast, you go alone, but if you want to go far, you go together."

4. If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough

Nelson Mandela ushered hundreds of women into the political sphere, joined the fight against HIV/AIDS, brought education to rural children, expanded voting rights to all South Africans, and fought for peace and justice around the world. In other words, he wasn't afraid to dream big. 

Undoubtedly inspired by his grandfather's large-scale ambitions, Ndaba believes that if you aren't scared by your dreams, they might not be big enough. However, there's still room for self-doubt. In fact, you should expect hurdles and speedbumps along the way.

"It's part of human nature to be weary and tired. Sometimes we're very excited at the beginning of something, but we feel like we're losing the passion later on. If you ever feel like this, reignite your passion by speaking to the people who sparked the big idea in the first place."

5. Great leaders put people first

Bearing the responsibility of a family legacy can feel incredibly daunting. Ndaba acknowledges that several times in his life, from when he was a young boy to as recently as last year, he wondered 'why me?' His answer to questions of self-doubt? Humility and purpose. 

"Run towards your destiny with an open heart and a clear mind, without comparing yourself to others. The power you have as an individual can make the world and its communities a better place."

Ndaba believes that a true leader stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and above all else, serves. 

"That's what a true leader does, you serve. You are there to hear people. And I often say to young people; you know what? God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: so that we can listen more than we talk."

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