The servant leadership of Nelson Mandela: a case study


A relatively new construct of leadership, known as servant leadership, has begun to appear with greater frequency within the body of leadership literature and is based on the idea of leader as first and foremost a servant. Greenleaf (2003) describes the servant leader as one who possesses a natural desire to serve and the ability to create positive change in a transformational manner. Although there has been a considerable amount of research presented in support of servant leadership over the past 4 decades, many consider this approach to be unrealistic and lacking in empirical validity. The purpose of this study was to add to the body of literature by exploring the leadership style of Nelson Mandela through the lens of the servant leadership paradigm. This study utilized a qualitative methodology, specifically an exploratory case study design to collect interview data from a purposeful sample to determine whether Nelson Mandela's leadership style is consistent with the characteristics of a servant leader, based on Robert Greenleaf's (1977) theory of servant leadership, and defined by Van Dierendonck (2011). Archival data was also utilized to support the findings. The results indicate that 4 of the 6 servant leadership characteristics as defined by Van Dierendonck (2011) were dominant traits with regard to Mandela's leadership style. The interviews also revealed how Mandela's leadership affected people's perception of him as an effective leader.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Servant leadership; Mandela, Nelson, 1918-2013

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Rhodes, Kent;

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