In a BloombergBusinessweek article by Nicholas Pearce he cited three characteristics that made Nelson Mandela a respected and influential leader.

#1 – Leadership is behavioral, not positional
One can lead without a formal title. Mandela only served as President of South Africa for five years yet he had remarkable influence. He was even influential while imprisoned for 27 years from 1962-1990. Four years after his release he was elected president in 1994. After leaving office in 1999 he continued to exert influence as a humanitarian and philanthropist.

It is “the capacity to integrate, motivate, and mobilize others to bring a common aspiration to life is what leadership is all about, not holding positions of formal authority” says Pearce.

As the leader of your organization or department lead using what Daniel Goleman refers to as emotional intelligence, capabilities like self-awareness, personal motivation, empathy and the ability to love and be loved. No matter where you are in an organization you can be influential.

#2 – Choose Collaboration Over Retaliation
Mandela was adept at bringing together peoples with distinctly varying viewpoints. He was working on a highly charged issue, apartheid. We can only imagine how polar opposite viewpoints had to be 20-30 years ago in South Africa on the subject of race. He was attempting to change the way things had been done for centuries. Yet by creating a multiracial and mixed-gendered leadership team he was able to join then South African President F.W. de Klerk in abolishing apartheid and establishing multiracial elections in 1994.

Be collaborative with your leadership team. You hired them because they are smart. Seek their input.

#3 – Never Give Up On Seemingly Impossible Ideals
Often quoted as saying that “it always seems impossible until it’s done” Mandela was known for his persistence and thinking most anything was possible. He had to have had a positive attitude in order to have survived 27 years of imprisonment many in an 8’X7’ cell and often physically and verbally abused.

As you lead your team keep them focused on the original goal and do not be afraid to modify the goal to a more achievable one if it seems unattainable. That is not giving up but being realistic. It is better to have accomplished even a part of a goal than to have abandoned it all together.

Back to Daniel Goleman for the conclusion. In his new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, he says leaders need a triple focus. It was summarized in an interview by Dan Schawbel in a forbes.com article.

The first is an inner focus which is awareness of your own feelings, values and intuitions, and to manage yourself well. Secondly, a leader needs an other focus, that is the ability to read people well, a key to managing relationships. The third focus is an outer focus, understanding what strategic issues the organization faces.

So lead by example and not from a position of power.  Seek the advice of others…your leadership team, a peer group of business leaders.  And remain focused on the end, your original intention.

Consider Reading This
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence by Daniel Goleman. It is the ability to focus more than IQ or social background that is the key to performance and success.