Admiration. Thesaurus lists the following words as synonyms for the word “admiration:” respect, esteem, approbation, high regard, approval, appreciation, wonder, awe.

You might wonder why I have listed “admiration” separately as one of the characteristics of a healthy work environment since I have already listed and written about respect and appreciation—two of the synonyms listed above. Well, to me, admiration is unique. While I may respect someone for their integrity, talent, and personhood; and while I may appreciate someone’s performance, creativity, or personal characteristics, admiration goes one step further. When I admire someone for their contribution to the organization or to the world, I bestow honor upon them.

When you think of someone you admire, it goes beyond the work they do or have done. It reflects someone who has gone beyond the expected and paved the way for others. It is the “hero” who epitomizes all that we believe to be good.

One of my heroes who I ultimately admire is Nelson Mandela. I was privileged to go to South Africa to lecture for the first time in August of 1994, not long after Mr. Mandela had been elected as President. Because of President Mandela, apartheid was over and a new freedom was evolving in his country. His autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, was one of the first books I read as I prepared for my trip.

Mr. Mandela displayed leadership throughout his life, enduring unbelievable and indescribable hardships due to his relentless commitment to freedom for all. On one of my subsequent trips to South Africa, I visited Robbin Island and was able to see the small cell in which Mandela spent 27 years of his life. The cell is about half the size of my clothes closet. I was able to see the quarry where he chipped away at stone day after day—all along motivating his fellow inmates to never give up hope.

Upon his release and during the presidency that followed, he led a country through civil and social upheaval to a new place of respect in the world. He gave millions of people a new sense of dignity and opportunity. While South Africa still resonates with poverty and continued challenges, it stands as evidence of the power of mind, intention, honor and perseverance exemplified by one man. One man who took the meaning of leadership to a new level of possibility.

God bless you, President Mandela. Thank you for the example of honor you have shared with all of us. I admire you.


The beautiful mountains around Cape Town, South Africa