12/17/2013 10:40 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2014

How Much of a Leader Are You?


According to the Harvard Business Review article "What Makes a Leader?" by Daniel Goleman, the essential factor that sets effective leaders apart is a high degree of emotional intelligence. He emphasizes the importance of self-regulation, self-awareness, empathy, social ability and enthusiasm.

When I started working with young adults as an instructor, I learned that if a child or youth struggles with the inability to control his emotions, he or she will most likely have noticeable difficulties in academic learning, social life and developing ability in leadership roles. Leaders aren't born; they are made through hard work. If you are a parent, I highly suggest that you read the book Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman.

No matter how hard you work, of course, there is no guarantee you will be the parent of the president of the nation or a CEO of a multinational company, but at least you'll help your child build a strong character and become a good adult. We have to teach our children to be the kind of leaders whom people follow voluntarily even without a title or official leadership position. Then, if they gain title or position they will carry it wisely.

With the loss of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, I thought about how important it is to have a good leader and how an effective leader can change the destiny of his people. For long-lasting and well-built leadership, a strong character is key. Mandela was not always regarded with such universal respect. Both former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher considered the African National Congress that Mandela headed a terrorist organization while the group was trying to overthrow South Africa's technically legitimate apartheid government. He was imprisoned for almost three decades. Most people couldn't have endured it the way Mandela did.

He spent 18 years in a small concrete cell on Robben Island, where he slept on a straw mat. He was mistreated by the guards. He was forced to work every day breaking rocks into gravel. His eyesight was damaged due to countless hours under the sun without sunglasses. When his mother died in 1968, he was not permitted to attend her funeral. When his son died a bit later, he was not allowed to attend his funeral either. His wife Winnie cheated on him, but he stood by her, though they later divorced. Even though Reagan and Thatcher sided with the apartheid regime and ignored his calls for change, Mandela forgave them and later met with them. After all that suffering, he became an exceptional historic figure. Some people even claim that he was a messiah.

As a great leader, Mandela never acted with bitterness. He embraced his former enemies but refused to be bowed by them. He was a voice of reconciliation, understanding and forgiveness. He had no real army to speak of and had a little power in office, but he was able to create a new ethical perspective through the power of his ideas and the example of his life. Although he was an aged man by the time he took power, the trust he had gained among people in every camp was crucial to South Africa's transformation from a racial dictatorship to a true democracy.

Mandela taught us that we should never doubt that a small group of selfless and concerned people can change the world. He showed us that a true leader aims for unity rather than revenge and seeks dialogue rather than the pure exercise of power. Leaders have the potential to translate vision into reality. He was proof that leadership is influence, not authority, and the challenge of it is to be kind, but not weak; to be tough, but not rude; to be courageous, but not a bully; and to be confident, but not narcissistic.

We should teach our children that successful leadership is not making a great speech, but making a sincere effort to listen to and understand others. A true leader should know how to use his great power lightly to keep everybody around him. Great future leaders will be those who empower others.