On an application for an internship I filled out recently, I was asked the question “What is leadership?”. Good question, right? We all know what leadership looks like and what leadership feels like, but when we try to put into words what we think leadership is, we are dumbfounded and can’t find what we want to say.
When trying to define what leadership is, I thought about the 12 days I spent in South Africa. My mind reverted to the afternoon I visited the Apartheid museum (apartheid is the South African equivalent of U.S. segregation and the Civil Rights Movement). Nelson Mandela—the South African Martin Luther King Jr.—was no doubt a great leader, a man who worked for a cause; he was a man with a vision.
What made him a great leader, though? Nelson Mandela was known for his part in the termination of apartheid, but accomplishments are not what made him a great leader. Mandela has been quoted several times, but his words are not what made him a great leader. Mandela became the president of South Africa after he was released from prison, but titles are not what made him a great leader.
You see, Mandela was a great leader because he had a heart. He had a selfless heart that loved and served. I think Garth Brooks said it best when he sang, “It’s just people loving people.” Leadership is all about love for others.
While in South Africa, we also had a chance to visit Robben Island, where Mandela was kept as a prisoner. Our guide on the island was a former prisoner, who was imprisoned at the same time Mandela was. Hearing him speak of the harsh conditions of the prison and the unfairness shown toward blacks in the country was the most impactful experience of the trip. Mandela’s leadership is known around the world because he loved the people he served. He served for our guide, our guide’s family and all the people oppressed by the Apartheid system.
My definition of leadership is as follows: Doing what you know is right in your heart at all times; serving others with love for their benefit, not yours.
Treat others with love. Serve with love. Lead with love. Leadership starts in the heart. If you’re not leading with your heart, you’re not leading at all.
“Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.” —Proverbs 4:23
Living (Loving) to Serve,