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True Leadership in the Invictus Film


The success or failure of any organization depends largely on the form of leadership in place. The concept of true leadership stands out clearly in the film Invictus. Mandela is released from prison after 27 years of incarceration, forgives the people that imprisoned him, and unites a sharply divided country due to the effects of longstanding apartheid. Even though Mandela, as the newly elected president of South Africa, has the power to revenge for his incarceration, he chooses to demonstrate true leadership by focusing on the common good of all South Africans. Similarly, the Springboks’ captain, François Pienaar, demonstrates qualities of true leadership when he overcomes various challenges to lead his team to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. This paper discusses the role of true leadership as depicted in the film Invictus by focusing on the two main characters – Mandela and Pienaar.

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Mandela’s Leadership Style and Qualities

Mandela portrays qualities of true leadership throughout the movie starting when he decides to forgive his oppressors who had incarcerated him for 27 years. He is humble (serves tea for himself), open-minded (ready to embrace progressive ideas even when they are foreign), polite (he is king and respectful – he addresses his secretary as Mrs.), informed (knows what needs to be done and takes a genuine interest in people – he knows about Pienaar’s injury, and visionary (he has a vision for the country). These attributes are tied to Mandela’s high emotional quotient. On their first day in office as the president, he organizes a meeting with his staff members where he shares his vision of a united South Africa. The essence of leadership, according to Mandela, is to allow oneself to expect more of himself and inspire people to be their best through continuous improvement. His emotional intelligence allows him to see beyond personal interests and pursue contributive goals toward the uniting of South Africa by influencing both Blacks and Whites to work together in all areas starting from his office and ultimately in sports.

As a good leader, Mandela understands the importance of collaboration and peace in the running of a successful country. He appoints new white guards and despite protests from Jason, the Head of Security, he stands his ground and clearly states, “The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation Starts here… Forgiveness starts here too. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon” (Eastwood). He is self-aware and he understands that to end racism, he has to lead by example and be the change that he wishes to see. Similarly, when the Sports Council wants to change the identity of Springboks to Proteas, Mandela remains firm and convinces those involved to retain the emblem and name and focus on building a united nation instead of focusing on trivial revenge. As a leader of integrity and vision, Mandela chooses what is good for the country even when the decision is not popular. To Mandela, the poem Invictus is inspirational and it means that people have to make deliberate decisions to pursue their destiny regardless of the challenges faced. As such, South Africa, despite being wounded and divided by many years of apartheid, can pull itself up and unify and Mandela shows the right leadership to achieve these goals.

Pienaar’s Leadership

Pienaar is a true leader who leads by example by being trustworthy, hardworking and a team player. Some of the good leadership traits that he shows include being a good listener, respectful, team player, and honest. He is also enthusiastic and at one time after his team loses, he toasts his team and tells them to feel the taste of an awful beer, which is the taste of defeat. He says, “Remember this and promise yourself never to taste it again” (Eastwood). He is unrelenting, and even in the face of defeat, he knows that the team has the potential to improve and win trophies. When his teammates complain about the proposed coaching clinics, he reminds them that they are more than a mere rugby team by levering his high emotional intelligence. During the final game against New Zealand’s The All Blacks, Pienaar remains upbeat and confident of a win despite facing tough opponents. He tells his teammates to listen to the voice of the nation. Having met Mandela, Pienaar shares the vision of uniting the country and to him, a win for Springboks would be a win for all South Africans. This mindset, which is part of true leadership, explains why a sports team’s performance can affect a nation.


Invictus is an inspirational movie and it portrays the important role that true leadership plays in the success of any organization through the two main characters – Mandela and Pienaar. Both of them have a high emotional quotient as shown in the various decisions that they make throughout the film. Ultimately, Mandela achieves his goal of united South Africa, while Pienaar leads the Springboks to a Rugby World Cup victory by being true leaders. The film has various take-away points that could help viewers become better leaders. For instance, leaders should lead by example as shown by both Mandela and Pienaar. Additionally, personal interests should not influence decision-making in leadership. Finally, leaders should be prepared to choose what is right over what is popular.


Eastwood, C. (2009). Invictus [Film]. Warner Bros.

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