Servant-Leadership 101: Principle of Selflessness (Nelson Mandela Video Example)

The principles of servant-leadership, as captured in the Acronym Model of SERVANT-Leadership™ begin with Selflessness. This 7 minute lesson shows this principle as applied by Nelson Mandela (played by  Morgan Freeman), during South Africa’s preparation for the 1995 World Cup of Rugby. Also present in this example are the principles of Empathy and Resolve.

If you or your organization could use support developing your leads, let’s talk!


The video clip used in this lesson comes from Invictus (affiliate link, by Warner Bros, 2009).

Full Video Transcript

I know all of the things they denied us but this is no time to celebrate petty revenge

this is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us

This clip from the movie Invictus shows nelson Mandela who was elected the first black president of South Africa after serving 27 years in prison. As the nation prepares to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup, their own national team the Springboks is dominated by white players as such the team represents prejudice and apartheid to most black South Africans. As a result, even though the country is about to host the World Cup of Rugby the nation’s sports committee, which is newly black-dominated, has voted to disband this symbol of what they consider white oppression. Mandela disagrees with that decision,
seeing the passion support and pride that many South Africans, especially the white population, have in the team. Now, Mandela’s advisors argue he should not intervene. He will lose support of many black South Africans, if he does. He remains undeterred and that’s where we pick up this scene…

We, the executive, would like to applaud you for your diligence and your courage.

Please, join us in our anthem.

Members of the choir, we would only interrupt such beautiful music for something truly important. Please, welcome President Mandela!

(applause) Thank you, thank you.



Sisters. Comrades

I am here because I believe you have made a decision with insufficient information and foresight. I am aware of your earlier vote.

I am aware that it was unanimous.

Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks. (Shocked mumbling)

Restore their name. Their emblem and their colors, immediately.

Let me tell you why. On Robin Island, in Paulsmoor Prison, all of my jailers were Afrikaners. For 27 years, I studied them. I learned their language.

Read their books.

Their poetry.

I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against them. And we did prevail, did we not?

All of us here, we prevailed. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner.

They are our fellow South Africans. Our partners in democracy. And they treasure Springbok Rugby.

If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be.

We have to be better than that.

We have to surprise them, with the compassion with restraint and generosity.

I know….

…all of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge!

This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us! Even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold.

You elected me your leader,

let me lead you now.

Who is with me on this?

Who is with me?

BEN: In this scene we saw several principles of servant-leadership reflected by Nelson Mandela – strongest of them: selflessness and empathy. First, selflessness. Mandela and those who support his argument to reinstate the Springboks are still likely tempted to seek vengeance of users of the oppression, but must resist that instinct. Second, empathy. We hear Mandela reflect the empathy for the white constituents that he and the sports committee must also serve. He mentions how much the Springboks mean to them and he says, “We must not be who they fear we would be!”

Lastly, it’s important to also note the resolve of Mandela. Prior to this scene, his advisers had argued against him supporting the reinstatement of the Rugby team. They say it’s just not worth losing the political capital. Yet, Nelson Mandela remains resolute in his stance that it is necessary for the healing of their great nation. How are you practicing selflessness within your organization and your team? What about empathy? Are there temptations you have to resist? And your resolve: how are you being resolute in your own beliefs?


Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Content

Martin Luther King – Celebration of a Servant Leader

Martin Luther King is among the greatest Servant Leaders this world has ever seen. His vision, leadership and ultimate sacrifice blazed a path for millions. There are many great posts, videos and other references that remind us of his vision and social injustices he would fight still today. Below are some of my favorites.

MSL Founder, Ben Lichtenwalner wears a Santa hat in a Christmas-decorated room, with snow falling outside and a simmering fire in the fireplace.

The Servant-Leader’s Night Before Christmas

Okay, you asked for it, here’s my personal reading of an old favorite: The SERVANT-LEADER’S Night Before Christmas. I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful Christmas with friends, family, and loved ones.

Scroll to Top
We Value Your Privacy

This site uses cookies to enhance your experience. We do not share, sell, or lease your information for any other purpose.