Nelson Mandela In The Movie Invictus History Essay

The story centres around events before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted in South Africa shortly after the fall of apartheid with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 after being held on Robben Island as a political prisoner for nearly 26 years. As the new elected President, Mandela pledged to unite the people of South Africa which is currently divided into two groups: the Afrikaners (white South Africans that came from Europe during the 17th century) and the black natives. The movie basically shows President Mandela’s attempt to unite both groups in supporting the country’s rugby team, the Springboks (rugby was traditionally a white sport) and steering the team as it made a historic drive towards winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship.

Despite all odds and initial resistance, the black natives of South Africa soon began to show interest in the Springboks. As the team wins more and more games, they continue to receive rising support from both the Afrikaners and the black natives. The team achieved unexpected success in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, defeating the strongest opponent in the tournament, New Zealand, which brought cheer not only to the Afrikaners but also to the black natives all over the country as they celebrated the team’s victory. This inevitably began to bridge the divide between the two groups that had been there for centuries due to apartheid.

President Nelson Mandela – despite having to face other pressing issues to build the country in his first term as president, Mandela is committed to his pledge to reunite the people of South Africa. He tries to achieve this through sports, namely rugby in which the country is hosting in the following year.

Francois Pienaar, the current captain of the South African Rugby team, the Springboks. Pienaar faces a tough challenge from President Mandela to drive his team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship, something he never thought possible before.

Newly-elected President Nelson Mandela plays a leading role as the person who tries to unite the divided groups of white Afrikaners and the black South African natives with the end of apartheid. He believes that it can be achieved through rugby, which is the number one sport for the white Afrikaners. With his strong belief in the power of the game, Mandela went against the wishes of his own staff and follows his instincts to pursue his target.

One incident shows a sporting organization where all committee members are black natives, and they agree to pass a motion to change the name, colour and logo of the rugby team to suit a different and blacker South Africa. Currently, the rugby team represents the pride of the Afrikaners and is despised by the black natives as they see it as a symbol of apartheid. However, President Mandela who arrives at the meeting just after the voting process asks the committee members to rethink their decisions in the context of unity for the country and the good of the population. In the end, when he manages to get a small minority of the group on his side, he sees it as a small win instead of a defeat and enough for him to keep the Springboks.

Days before the final match, Pienaar as captain of the rugby squad claims that the team needs a break. They head to Robben Island with their girlfriends to take their minds off the game. There, Pienaar visited the jail where Mandela was held. Standing inside Mandela’s actual jail cell, Pienaar is dismayed to discover how small the cell is and having only a sheet on the ground to sleep on. Yet the man who was held in this cell for nearly 26 years can easily forgive those who put him in prison, and has great plans to unite the people of the country.

President Mandela invites Pienaar to tea for their first meeting. Mandela believes that he can achieve the unity that he planned for through rugby and needed Pienaar’s assistance to get the support of the Afrikaners. Pienaar was charmed by Mandela’s personal style and warmth upon his arrival at the Government House. He also observed that Mandela treated everyone around him with great respect, even the lady who served them tea.

During the brief meeting, Mandela skillfully challenges Pienaar to think positively about winning the upcoming Rugby World Cup Championship. He shared his vision on the importance of winning the championship to South Africa – to unite the people via a World Cup victory. Pienaar who was impressed with the president’s quiet leadership, personal commitment and motivation to achieve the vision soon began to see the odds of winning the cup as a possibility, thus inspires him to lead this team to train harder that before.

Leaders’ behaviour and characteristics

In this movie, Mandela skillfully demonstrates his people-oriented leadership style. For instance, even on his first day in office as the newly-elected President of South Africa, he showed great courtesy to all his staff, blacks and whites, by greeting and smiling at everybody whom he passed by on his way to his suite. This earned him great respect from all staff, especially the white Afrikaners who thought they would be sacked once a black leader assumed office.

Mandela also decided to maintain the former white staff and builds an administrative team of both groups. The same also applies to his security staff. In order to lead by example and to achieve the unity he had long planned for, he believes that his team must reflect his vision.


Leadership behaviour

Leadership styles are important to successfully lead teams in organisations. There are various styles of leadership that can be observed and are practised by leaders in today’s organisations, but theories mostly centre around two groups:

“One type involves a group of task-oriented behaviours, in which the leader helps subordinates figure out what is expected of them and manages the daily activities of a group toward accomplishing a task.” [6] 

“The other set of behaviours is referred to as people-oriented style, where the leader provides a more supportive role in providing a positive work environment in which the workers can maximize their productivity.  This is sometimes referred to as participative leadership, and is also more closely related to transformational leadership theories.” [7] 

Evidently, both sets of behaviours are important to create a balance in successful leadership. President Mandela excellently displayed both task-oriented and participative leadership styles in his quest to build the nation. He sought the help and participation of Pienaar to transform the image of the Springboks in the eyes of the black natives. Through Pienaar’s leadership, the team members successfully won the hearts of the black natives and garner their support which steered the team to victory.

Change agent capabilities

Basically, a “change agent” is someone who can motivate others around him to produce higher degree of output, to do more and to achieve better things in their lives.

“Change agents always need the ability to get all people affected by the project involved, to ensure their support and commitment. This requires a high competency as the basis for acceptance as well as soft skills, which are often summarized as emotional intelligence. This includes the ability to communicate, to understand and to take into account opinions and doubts of others. Change projects involve a great variety of factors and forces. These factors do not only comprise the reasons and objectives for change, but also the existing state of the organization, values, beliefs and routines of the people there. Many change projects challenge the existing cultural framework of an organization. Efforts to change such lasting values, however, lead to resistance and denial. It takes the acceptance and the support of all people affected by such projects to make them succeed. It is the change agent’s task to generate this acceptance in order to implement change with the people, not against them.” [8] 

Clearly, President Mandela has demonstrated his capabilities in becoming the “change agent” for South Africa’s unity and progress. President Mandela demonstrates these managerial traits effectively through leading by example and motivating people through his great respect for others and personal humility. His quietly confident manner and strong commitment in conveying his visions and aspirations also encourage others around him to do amazing things that they never thought they are capable of doing before.

Able to support, able to develop new ideas and recognize achievement

Despite the hostility shown towards his support for the Springboks, President Mandela stood his ground and diligently and courageously attended the rugby matches. He even made an effort to memorise the names of all the players and greeted them personally by their name before the matches and during practices.

“Mandela’s team made sure there was plenty of press coverage of him meeting with world leaders about investing in his country.” [9] 


Executive summary of the two incidents selected.

“Soon after he was elected, Mandela read an article about the replacement of the Springboks’ coach. He started to think in terms of how he’s going to unite South Africa and saw rugby as the vehicle to put away the differences. Since most Afrikaners are under the impression of losing their country’s identity, Mandela aims to unite them with keeping the Springbok name and using the upcoming world cup as an example of how to overcome South Africa’s apartheid past. Later, a vote by the sports committee in South Africa unanimously agrees to change the Spingbok name, logo and colours, all former symbols of Afrikaner pride. Upon hearing this, Mandela personally travels to the committee to change their mind, saying that by keeping their former colours and name, they can reach out to Afrikaners that mostly think Mandela is out to rid South Africa of their presence. This doesn’t go well with the natives and by the time Mandela leaves, he has acquired only 13 votes. Still, he sees this as progress as those votes were enough for him to keep the Springboks. Despite his personal assistant’s disagreement that he should concern himself with more important matters than rugby, Mandela forges ahead with his own plans.” [10] 

“In an attempt to convey Mandela’s message, Pienaar gives his team copies of the South African national anthem and told them to actually sing the anthem and not to mumble through the words like they used to. Most of the team crumples up their copies, saying they have no interest. Francois recants and says it is optional. However, later they are forced by President Mandela to take occasional breaks from Rugby and go out into the poorer areas of South Africa and teach rugby to the natives as a way to inculcate interest of the game to the black natives. At first, only Chester who is the team’s sole black player, is swarmed by all the kids but soon the entire team is out there helping a new generation of children to learn rugby and instil national pride, regardless of race. Francois implores his team that forms change all the time and their team is no different.” [11] 

Involvement of the selected leaders within the incident

In the first incident, President Mandela takes it upon himself to make sure that the Springboks are able to maintain their name, logo and colours despite disagreement from the black sports committee members. He stood his ground and clearly conveyed the message across that what he did was for the good of the country’s unity.

In the second incident, Pienaar tried to change the attitude of the team players towards embracing their national anthem. Even though he was not successful on his first attempt, the fact that he went on to sing the anthem displayed his willingness to lead by example, hoping that the others will follow suit.

Making decision within team, group and individual setting

“A strategic leader can utilize decision-making teams as a powerful asset in successfully coping with the environment. Such teams improve their decision making by using a process of consensus, a process useful when developing national security strategy, military strategy, or strategic planning in other public or private sectors. Knowing how to forge consensus for policy development and implementation is critical to successful management and leadership.

Successful strategic leaders use their knowledge and skills to structure and lead high performing teams. Strategic teams that perform with unity of purpose contribute to the creation of strategic vision, develop long-range plans, implement strategy, access resources, and manage the implementation of national policy. Given the nature of the strategic environment and the complexity of both national and global issues, strategic leaders must use teams. They cannot do it alone.” [12] 

Charismatic and transformational roles

There are very few leaders who are capable of transformational leadership. However, this is not considered unfortunate as a leader’s ultimate job is to keep the organization productive and the people engaged. In certain instances, too much transformation can be chaotic and lead nowhere.

In this movie, Mandela was one of the few who can be categorized as a successful transformational leader. He was able to encourage people to believe in themselves so that the organisation can achieve greater heights. For instance, in his first meeting with Pienaar, Mandela explains that a leader’s job is to get followers to believe that they are capable of doing more than they think possible. This thinking then leads to the rugby team’s victory in winning the World Cup Championship.

Leaders with these types of behaviours and attitudes tend to draw followers as people are naturally attracted to those who display strength and inspire belief in others. These charismatic qualities enable effective leadership.

6.0 Critically analyze each of the two and more incidents and consider other options

the leaders could have considered and made.

Participative leadership, delegation and empowerment

Participative leadership style, which is known to be the best type of corporate leadership style in organisations today, allows employees to get involved in decision-making process to a certain extent. This democratic style of employee management creates healthy relationship between management and employees as both sides feel that their involvement is sought in the process of achieving the organization’s goals and objectives.

This leadership technique also promotes the development of future leaders via their participation in determining a common goal for the organization. As involvement of team members are required in decision making, hidden talents can be unearthed and their leadership qualities polished further.

In the first incident, President Mandela asserts his decision to let the Springboks keep their identity but at the same time asks the committee members to reconsider their decision. Although he managed to persuade a small minority (13 votes) to agree with him, the number is sufficient and he looks upon it as a small win, not a total defeat. This displays his participative leadership style whereby instead of using his power and influence to change the committee’s decision, he asked them to rethink their decision and get them to vote again.

For the second incident involving Pienaar, as captain of the team he tried to persuade the other members to sing along the national anthem. However, when the team crushed the paper given to them, he did not reprimand them but went on to sing the anthem. He tried to lead by example, hoping that the team would follow suit once they see him doing so. In encouraging the team to work harder towards achieving their goal of winning the World Cup Championship, Pienaar was seen motivating his team members so that they can all work towards one purpose and perform their best in every match. Pienaar also uses participative leadership to inculcate team spirit and camaraderie.

Power and influence

“Power refers to the capacity a person has to influence the decision of another person so that the person acts according to his wishes. The more power a person has, the higher his influence on the whole system is.” [13] 

“Influence is any action or examples of behavior that cause a change in the attitude or behavior of another person or group.  It is the process of guiding the activities of organization members in appropriate directions.  It involves the performance of four management objectives: leading, motivating, considering groups and communicating.  Appropriate directions are those that lead to the attainment of management objectives. Influence System involves people taking the roles of influencer and influence.  It refers to situations wherein behavioral changes occur as a result of relationships among people.  These relationships involve interaction which is direct or indirect.” [14] 

Being the President of the country, Mandela has both power and influence. However, he skillfully uses his power and influence to generate respect and support from the people.

Pienaar also steadily works his way up to gain trust and respect from his fellow teammates. By commanding their trust and respect, he was capable of transforming the perception of the rugby team and instill pride and higher commitment from them.

Managerial traits and skills

President Mandela and Pienaar both demonstrate high level of management skills and leadership traits which help them gain support from a population which are initially plagued by centuries of racial divide. Mandela inspirational leadership motivates Pienaar to perform better than he ever thought he could. Through Mandela’s quiet self-confidence and charisma, Pienaar was overwhelmed and personally look upon him as a great leader. Based on this motivation, Pienaar encouraged his rugby team to work harder and strive for victory.

Leading change

“Some of this story’s most powerful leadership lessons come from Mandela’s first meeting with the Springbok’s captain. Responding to Mandela’s question on his leadership philosophy, Pienaar says he believes in leading by example. Mandela agrees that’s critical. Mandela then challenges him; “How do you inspire a people (or a team) to be better than they think they are?” The inspirational leadership theme builds throughout the rest of the film. Mandela’s words, “visible felt leadership,” and his history become powerful rallying points for ever higher performance.” [15] 

Strategic leadership

Strategic leadership refers to leaders who successfully influence large groups of people in organisations to act as required based on established organisational structure, allocated resources and communicated objectives and vision. They are generally functional in a highly complex environment which is influenced by external factors beyond their control.

Strategic leaders have to digest information quickly and make correct decisions based on whatever is available to them at the point in time. As such, consequences of their decision affect more people in the organisation and tend to commit more resources. Sometimes, the decisions and initiatives can only implicate long-term plans and may take years to prepare and execute.

Ethical issues

“A value is a belief that one mode of conduct is preferable to its opposite. For example, some people will value openness to change as opposed to tradition and conformity. Another example is self-enhancement (power and achievement) versus self-transcendence (universalism and benevolence). Moral awareness will differ depending on the values you hold. If you value change over tradition you’ll likely view an ethical decision differently. But the key is to anchor the value in the character strengths, because the likelihood of making a good quality ethical decision is dependent on those character strengths.” [16] 

In this movie, President Mandela transforms the perception of the black natives on rugby which has always been a white sport. Traditionally, the black natives despise the Springboks which they perceive as representing apartheid. By changing the values through this game, Mandela fruitfully changed the tradition of the population as all of them showed great unison in supporting the rugby team as they made their way to victory.


In summary, the movie Invictus is full of great examples of leadership skills and values. President Mandela exhibited excellent leadership and management skills in bringing unity to the country through sports and Pienaar successfully executed his part to garner the nation’s support to an overwhelming victory.

Clearly, participative leadership and empowerment through consensus and general consultation brings better results compared to exertion of power and influence to move a population. Charismatic leaders with strong commitment and high confidence can transform the impossible into a possibility and create huge success for the organisation.

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