One great leader who had always fascinated me is the Madiba, Nelson Mandela.
The reasons for the fascination are many. For one it is the Africa connection - I had known of Mr. Mandela since 1984 or so, when the anti-Apartheid struggle was at its peak. At that time I was barely 8. Newspapers in Zambia were full of news on the anti-Apartheid struggle and Mandela. One just just could not miss that.
The second was the way Mr. Mandela maintained his dignity and guarded his sanity despite 27 years of his incarceration, which is in no way a small achievement. He came out of the Robben Island prison and literally took his nation from isolation to the center stage of the world.
Thirdly, and certainly, not lesser in importance, Mr. Mandela passed on the baton after a single term as president of the Rainbow Nation. How many world leaders have actually had the guts to do that? Our own stalwarts, in India, desperately clung on to power till they died, little did they concentrate on building systems and structures to serve the country. However, Mandela created a system that was independent of him, that lives on, despite his not being active on the political front.
Fourthly, the Madiba envisioned a nation of unity, not a nation divided by sectarianism. He walked the talk, when he supported the Springbok rugby team in the face of severe opposition. He selected the Day of the Vow, which was celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Boers over the local Zulus in 1838, in the Battle of Blood River, where over 3000 Zulus were massacred. The majority had long viewed the Day of the Vow as an oppressive celebration. However, the Madiba prevailed, and today, the Day of the Vow is celebrated as the Day of Reconciliation to foster national unity.
A few years back I read the Madiba's autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom. More recently I saw Invictus that captured the journey of the Springbok rugby team - a symbol of Apartheid from the lows of ignominy to the heights of winning the World Cup. That was all because the Madiba rallied the Rainbow Nation's support for the Springboks. The Springboks, thanks to their skipper, Francois Pienaar on the other hand, matched the trust the nation, and the Madiba had reposed in them. Imagine how well can Indian politicians leverage use cricket to harmonize India, but I can trust them for never doing it. It's rather sad we, in India, never had a Madiba.
The Madiba's nature came out very well in an interview Francois Pienaar gave on Invictus, on how he developed a deep bond with the family.
The Madiba has had his style-statement - the Madiba shirt - shirts printed with African motifs, in the pan-African colour combination of black or green or yellow or red. He broke out of the mould - the conventional, stiff dressing style of world leaders.
The movie Invictus, as well as his autobiography did allude to the fact that Madiba drew the strength of his character from a poem, Invictus, written by William Ernest Henley, an English poet, way back in 1875. That shaped his attitude in the years after he left Robben Island.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
If such powerful words could steer the Madiba to greatness, imagine what they can do to all of us!