Bill Gibson – The Day I Personally Met Nelson Mandela (Lessons In Leadership)

Friday, the 18th of July was Nelson Mandela Day here in South Africa (His birth date). As a tribute to this great leader I am re-posting my blog article: The Day I Personally Met Nelson Mandela (Lessons in Leadership). It is worth a re-read even if you have read it before. Great Leadership Principles. The thought of Nelson Mandela takes me back to late 1995 when I was preparing for my 3rd visit to South Africa from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. On the way out the door, I made a very bold statement to my wife Beverley and my two sons Ryan and Shane. It went something like this, “during this trip to South Africa I am going to personally meet Nelson Mandela!” Well, needless to say there was lots of laughter and comments like “are you dreaming?”, “get real dad”, “I know it’s great to be positive but it will take more than positive thinking!”

Three weeks later I’m packing my suitcase getting ready to head back to Canada after a great few weeks of speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa! At the last minute I realized I had forgotten to buy gifts and that most of the shops were closed on a Sunday. I hopped in my car and made my way to the Rosebank Rooftop Market that I heard would be open. Suddenly in the middle of Rosebank, the traffic came to a halt…obviously a car accident. The line of traffic was moving very slowly and people were out of their cars. I asked one of them, “is there an accident?” His answer was, “no…Nelson Mandela (Madiba) is out for his Sunday afternoon walk…that is stopping the traffic!”

Then I noticed to my right a wall of body guards giving President Mandela the privacy and room to walk. I pulled over and parked the car and quickly walked to the wall of body guards and took a deep breath and asked “can I meet President Mandela?” They answered “not today.”

Then from behind the wall of body guards came Nelson Mandela’s voice …”ask him if he is Canadian” I said “yes” and he replied, “let him through.” Wow…the power of thought and the power of taking a chance and asking! (By the way Nelson Mandela is an honorary citizen of Canada.)

I stepped into his presence and he grasped my hand in the most sincere handshake fashion imaginable. He asked me my name and then proceeded to ask where I was from? I told him Nova Scotia…he knew where it was. He wanted to know my father’s name…what he did for a living (diesel mechanic), my mom’s name, my sister…was I from the city or the country. Eventually he asked me what I was doing in South Africa. I explained that I was a speaker and trainer with a focus on entrepreneurship, marketing, sales and people development. His response was, “please don’t just visit…come and spend time here and help us grow our people and our country.” We spoke for about 5 minutes and all the time we chatted he held my hand and looked squarely into my eyes. The only way I can describe it is…I had just had a rare experience of being with a man who was deeply rested in his being! I could feel the peace within Nelson Mandela. It was a spiritual experience. I was electrified.

How wonderful…he recognized the Canadian accent. He wasn’t political or all business…he wanted to know about me as a person. All of us as leaders could take a lesson from Nelson Mandela’s way of dealing with people. There is a saying that people will often forget the words we use but they will always remember how we made them feel. I felt special, I felt his sincerity, his humbleness and his caring yet powerful presence. I will never forget how he made me feel. Thank-you Madiba! 19 years later and I am still here in South Africa.

There is a message here for communities, countries, business and families. Try to remember…“people go where they are invited and stay where they are appreciated.”

When it came to the use of Power, Nelson Mandela also had it right. He was quoted saying after becoming President of South Africa, “The problem I have “is not” how to use power. My biggest problem is how “not” to use power.”

In his book Leading Like Madiba, (Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela) Martin Kalungu-Banda got it right. He wrote:

  • Where he could punish, he tried to understand the position of the one at fault
  • He practised restraint, when he could have used power to settle scores with those who had treated him and his colleagues as if they did not matter
  • When he was in such a strong position that he could push others to comply with him, he preferred to consult, persuade and even plead in order to settle matters

Instead of intimidating people with his power, he chose to bargain and quite often forgo the short term “sweet victory.”

If all those who are called or think of themselves as leaders, learnt how not to use power, our homes,our work places and our world could be friendlier, happier and even maybe more peaceful.

Madiba you will live on in my mind forever. I am so grateful that I met such a giant of a man during one of my first visits to South Africa. What a privilege! We need more leadership role models like Nelson Mandela in this world. You are and always will be a legend…you will live forever!

“If you have found this blog article to be valuable for you, I would be grateful if you “shared” it with your Social Media Networks. Also feel free to circulate it by e-mail or other means internally within your organization or externally to your clients, suppliers and personal and business network. Thank-you!”    – Bill Gibson

Bill Gibson is a Canadian who is living in South Africa. He is an international speaker and author and a developer of sales, service, marketing, collecting, employee morale building, personal development and entrepreneurial training programs and systems. His blog is and his website is He can be reached at or phone +27-11-784-1720 in South Africa. You can follow Bill Gibson on Twitter: @billgibson1, connect on LinkedIn: or Knowledge Brokers International SA Pty Ltd Facebook Page:

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