I saw Invictus again on my flight home yesterday. In the film, President Mandela is called "Madiba" by the people of his tribe; I equate its meaning to something like sensei + wise man + father, or sensei:). "Invictus" (below) was a companion to Mandela during his 27 years in jail. The spirit of this poem (Latin for "unconquered"), combined with his belief in all the people of South Africa, helped make Madiba Madiba.
Most boards and recruiters don't seem to believe a Madiba is needed for success; in most organizations - public, private, or government, the leaders I've observed are much more pragmatic. Their focus is on specific, measurable, and externally-acknowledged outcomes. These are important, and certainly one outward measure of an organization's performance, but if you think this is the only thing, then your true and long-term success is at risk.
Mandela inherited an incredibly complex country - one with angry (but victorious) black people and nervous white people; one where the economy was in the tank; and one where crime and violence were rampant. In the commercial world, this might be akin to management/union acrimony + a recently-merged company (perhaps former competitors) + impending lay-offs + a very competitive marketplace with shrinking margins. Of course Madiba needed to focus on the economy, on crime, and on justice, just as the companies need to focus on their metrics - you have to keep the boat afloat.
But Mandela approached his presidency in a particular way - symbols meant something, honor meant something, and the people (all the people) meant something. Sure there were measurable outcomes, but they weren't meaningful if they weren't underlied by the symbols.
This reminds me of a recent experience: someone I know is in the job market; in the opening section of her resume, she introduced herself beginning with the word "passionate." Her mentor urged her to remove it, saying - "'Passion'? Really? Is that what you want to lead with? Employers will dismiss you outright. Instead write about the quantified and documented things you have done, and the skills you bring to the table. That's what matters."
Of course skills and experience are important, but they're just table stakes. They might allow you to play the game, and perhaps even win on occasion, but to achieve real, sustained, and enduring success, you need heart; you must feel it in your stomach, you must care, and you must have profound passion for your "cause." I would hire one person with genuine passion vs. ten with skills - ask any true leader (government, commercial, or sport) and see what they say.
Just as a great corporation is first the people and then the product, Mandela needed to do more - he needed to galvanize a country - bring together violently opposed people to form one country, one people. He needed to instill the shared spirit, intent, and integrity that is South Africa in every South African.
Mandela knew that metrics alone weren't going to renew South Africa; he knew that speeches alone would not unite the country; he knew that foreign investment alone wasn't going to stop violence. He needed his people (all his people) to be ONE in the cause of their country, and he needed a symbol through which to do this - in his case it was the 1995 Rugby World Cup. He needed to create, as Seth put it, True Fans of South Africa among her citizens.
If there is no "WHY" in your organization or community, you are at risk; the "what" or the "how" will only take you so far. He understood this instinctively, and he also understood that the worst thing in the world was for him to use his electoral victory as a black man to create a new separateness with a reverse apartheid. That's why he honored the Springboks and their colors (something deeply tied to the whites) vs. getting a new name with new colors. And that's why he needed to turn the blacks around, and have them, along with the whites, all become true Springbok fans.
Madiba's stubbornness in fighting his fellow blacks on this was critical. For organizations (political or otherwise), their leaders MUST have this kind of wisdom, this kind of strength, and this kind of resolve. As he said in the film, whilst arguing with his advisers, "This country is hungry for greatness [and this is how I will help them achieve it]."