11 inspiring Nelson Mandela quotations

The former political prisoner and South African president spent most of his 95 years fighting oppression. He shared wisdom that could apply to politics, PR, communications, or many other walks of life.


Nelson Mandela died Thursday at his home in South Africa at age 95. The anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner, and first-ever black president of South Africa was an avid writer and speaker who often shared his considerable wisdom about how to communicate, effective leadership, and methods of dealing with one’s enemies. Mandela was infinitely quotable, but here we have selected 11 quotations that show what an extraordinary communicator, negotiator, and persuader he was. They serve as words to live by for anyone who communicates professionally.

• “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” • “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.” • “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” • “Lead from the back—and let others believe they are in front.” • “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” • “Unlike some politicians, I can admit to a mistake.” • “One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others.” • “It is wise to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.” • “Know your enemy—and learn about his favorite sport.” • “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” • “Appearances matter—and remember to smile.” • “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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