06/25/2013 06:33 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2013

The Happy Warrior

Suaviter on modo, fortiter in re
Gentle in manner, resolute in deed

Exactly five years ago I was walking down the street and passing a newsstand I saw a close-up of Nelson Mandela's face staring back at me from the cover of Time Magazine. I love his face, looking at him makes me think of the best parts of us as human beings and what we are capable of in unthinkable circumstances. When I have heard this past year that he has been suffering with continuing health problems, which seem to have gotten more serious, my heart grips with fear as I want him to live forever, this world is a far better place with him in it. I picked up the Time Magazine that day (vol. 172, no. 3/2008) which coincided with his 90th birthday (thank-goodness the good don't always die young) and devoured the article about him, which focused on and was called, "His Eight Lessons of Leadership." I still treasure it and re-read it often. I will highlight a few of my favorites.

I have to start where he started. Number one says: "Courage is not the absence of fear -- it's inspiring others to move beyond it." He then elaborates by explaining that there were times in his life he was terrified (no kidding) but as a leader, you cannot let people know. "You must put up a front," he says, as the article continues, "and that's precisely what he learned to do: pretend and, through the act of appearing fearless, inspire others." Note to self: pretending works sometimes. As a mother I have moments of this when I know my daughter is watching me very carefully and what I want to be is truly inspiring, showing her I can move beyond my fear. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Mandela, knowing the world, especially his greatest enemies, were watching his every move. That is truly grace under pressure and ironically, he thinks he learned a lot of that in prison. It gave him, the article explains, "the ability to take the long view. He was thinking in terms of not days and weeks but decades. 'Things will be better in the long run,' he sometimes said. He always played for the long run." Since the day I read those words I can't get the idea of 'playing for the long run' out of my mind. I aspire to live that way.

Number 4 is: "Know your enemy -- and learn about his favorite sport." The upshot of this one is "he learned the language of his greatest enemies, literally wanting to understand their world-view, hoping to get a glimpse of their strengths and weaknesses. He even learned about rugby, their beloved sport." As I read the article I was mesmerized again and again by Mandela's smarts, his stunning patience...his STRATEGY. I have to throw in number 6: "Appearance matters -- and remember to smile." I love this. The article quotes a close observer, "He carried himself with the air of a chief's son. And he had a smile that was like the sun coming out on a cloudy day." What a great thing to have said about you, and what a wise man uses that smile to change the world. And finally, number 7: "Nothing is black or white." The article elaborates, "Mandela's message was very clear: life is never either/or. Decisions are complex, and there are always competing factors." It goes on to say that Mandela is comfortable with contradiction. Which to me is a good reminder for these complex days of ours. Being comfortable with contradiction is an evolved, mature point of view -- one I think we desperately need.

I found much comfort in reading a bit of 'behind the scenes' in the life of a man I admire so much. In some of the moments of vulnerability, I loved and admired him more. They call him "the world's greatest moral leader" and "the closest thing the world has to a secular saint" and what I find encouraging is that he is terrified at times, and conflicted, and has been married three times and that his real name means "troublemaker." We are indeed complex human beings, messy and miraculous at our core. We tend to forget that, especially when measuring somebody else. For me Mandela has an honorable way about him, and I need people, men, to admire. The article talks about him being "the happy warrior" and that "Mandela's smile symbolized his lack of bitterness." I know plenty of bitter people who haven't suffered a hundredth of what Mandela has been through, and yet there is no smile. There is so much to learn in that alone. The truth is, I could live the rest of my life just working on the eight lessons from this great leader -- and be on quite a soulful journey. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Nelson Mandela for smiling on me, on all of us.