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Leadership Lessons from Nelson Mandela and Micky Mantle

Posted on February 18th, 2011

God came to me through two great biographies that I finished reading recently.

The first was about Micky Mantle. was one of the greatest, most gifted American baseball players that ever lived. When I was growing up, everyone wanted to be like Micky. He enjoyed unprecedented success, wealth and fame in his twenties. He seemed to be immune to the suffering and pain of life.  All his dreams and more were his. By the time he was in his early 60’s, however, as he lay dying of liver failure, he grieved and wept over his life. “I’d like to say ot he kids out there, if you’re looking for a role model, this is a role model. Don’t be like me… Everything I’ve got is worn out. Although I’ve heard people say they’d like to have my heart… it’s never been used.” Nelson Mandela’s reflections on the end of his life, as recounted in Conversations with Myself, contrasts sharply to Micky Mantle’s. Mandela was incarcerated in Robben Island prison from 1964 to 1982 for resisting apartheid before his release and leadership of a bloodless revolution in South Africa. He writes at the end of his life: “The ideals we cherish, our fondest dreams and fervent hopes may not be realized in our lifetime. But that is besides the point. The knowledge that in your day you did your duty… is in itself a rewarding experience and magnificent achievement.” I remain  convinced, more than ever, that it takes time, suffering and a great deal of work on our own hearts to lead grow into a mature, great leader. I hightly recommend Bob Clinton’s book The Making of a Leader if you have never read it . It is a classic on how God makes His leaders. He looks at the lives of hundreds of historical and biblical leaders to outline the key tests every leader must pass through if they are to grow into long-term, fruitful maturity.   Mandela inspires me to take the long view and do the right thing one day at a time – even if it is not strategic or expedient in the short term. What might we need for a generation of Mandela’s to emerge in the church today?

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