Case #2104.0

Values-Based Leadership Across Difference: The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela

Publication Date: September 19, 2017
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On December 10, 2013 more than 90,000 South Africans gathered at the FNB Stadium in Soweto outside of Johannesburg to mourn the death of the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. At the stadium, several dignitaries addressed the mourners, which included United States President Barack Obama and then-current or former heads of state or government from over 100 countries—one of the largest assemblages of world leaders in history.

Obama took the podium to eulogize Mandela: “[His] passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life,” he said. “But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: ‘How well have I applied his lessons in my own life?’”

This case provides students with a short history of South Africa followed by a contextualized biography of Nelson Mandela—from birth through death—that emphasizes the key events and actions that served to shape his life and reflect his values and leadership.

Mandela demonstrated adaptability and malleability and many shifts in strategy, emerging from the impetuousness of youth to become a Zen-like elder statesman. Over the course of his life, though, his core values did not change. Mandela showed ability to navigate and negotiate with different stakeholders. How did he get power from both sides while maintaining legitimacy in both camps? How was he able to avoid the neither/nor that can alienate both sides? These are the key questions students will grapple with during the class discussion.

Learning Objective:

The case is designed to facilitate a live, in-class discussion of the role of personal, core values in achieving and maintaining leadership. The learning objective is to understand the essence of values-based leadership in the service of others, along with the personal sacrifice, patience, persistence, and openness to change that is required.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Laura Winig
Faculty Lead:
Robert Livingston
Pages (incl. exhibits):
South Africa
Funding Source:
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research