Remembering Madiba:  The Beautiful Leader

By Toby Thompkins, VP Tides 21st Century

I was too young to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to understand how the presence of one person’s life on this planet can change the very nature of humanity. For me, that understanding came through the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918-2013.  He was what I think of as a “beautiful leader.”   While we don’t typically think of leaders as progenitors of beauty, it is because we don’t fully understand the power of beauty in leadership.  Beauty, the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, is a critical dimension to who Mandela was as a man, a leader, and a model of leadership for the world. He captured the hearts of people who believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.  He created a beautiful vision of racial and human equity to strengthen the minds of his supporters and to seduce the minds of his oppressors. Because of the seamlessness between his personhood and leadership, Mandela was able to lure his opponents away from their operating principles of race supremacy and the structures of apartheid it created.  While it can easily be said that Mandela was not a perfect man or leader, he was a good man, and it takes a good man or woman to make a great leader.

Mandela challenged us to discover what is beautiful in each person regardless of who they love, where they are from, which gender they embody, or the God they serve and by doing so, to uncover the beauty that lies in each of us.

He will be missed for sure, but like each plot of land in a garden the is cleared by winter for the blossoms of spring, I know that his life is a reminder to all of us at Tides, the grantees and donors we serve, of why we do the work that we do and the beauty that we can bring to a world that desperately needs to it.