PEOPLE Last modified on August 7, 2014

People matters - Lessons from Nelson Mandela

Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey provide their thoughts on: Courageous leadership.


In the airport environment, there is a premium on reliable operations and keeping risks to a minimum.


Unfortunately, life does not always go smoothly, and people in airport leadership roles sometimes have to face the challenges of uncertainty, change and turbulence.


Periods of instability can arise through restructuring and reorganisation, political pressures, changing ownership, governance and leadership, commercial challenges and even crises involving physical danger and threat.


To negotiate these times successfully puts intense personal demands on those in leadership roles at all levels. In particular, it requires courage – the ability, willingness and spirit that enables people to overcome their fears and face up to risk, danger, uncertainty and intimidation with self possession, self confidence, determination and resolution. 


Courage is needed when it is necessary to speak out and tell people the truth; to confront difficult situations and people; to persevere with a course of action in the face of problems and opposition, to build relationships and bridges with those who are not on your side; and to make decisions that are in the best interests of the organisation even where these involve some personal risk. 


The late, great, Nelson Mandela provided a brilliant role model of a courageous leader, demonstrating principled leadership, perseverance, patience, resilience and mental toughness in his drive to achieve goals of equality and freedom. He did so over many years in the face of adversity and personal danger. 


He had respect for all, and was able to build deep relationships and gain support from all kinds of people, including those who had imprisoned him. 


Whilst prepared to take a tough stand where necessary, he demonstrated tolerance, forgiveness and compassion and was intensely pragmatic in his approach to problem solving. He was always looking for the ‘middle way’ – solutions which addressed the needs of all stakeholders.


What can we learn from Nelson Mandela about ‘courageous leadership’?

  • Make sure you know what you stand for, communicate this clearly to others, and stand up for what you believe in – even if it is not the popular view
  • Act in a way that is consistent with what you say 
  • Create an environment where there is mutual respect, co-operation and listening – where people are encouraged to speak openly 
  • ‘Reach out’ to build relationships with a wide range of people – even apparent adversaries 
  • Look for pragmatic solutions which preserve everyone’s interests – take the middle way
  • Be patient, disciplined and persistent 


Leadership is about ‘doing the right thing’ – and leadership without courage isn’t true leadership.







Miami-Dade Aviation Department (MDAD) has filled three key posts in its leadership team.

Long-time MDAD executive Gregory Owens has been promoted to assistant director for business retention and development; Joseph Napoli is the new chief of staff and senior policy advisor; and Dan Agostino has joined the MDAD team as assistant director for operations.

They join Hiram Barroso who was named as MDAD’s senior executive assistant to the director and deputy chief of staff late last year.

Director, Emilio González, explains: “Like any large organisation, MDAD is only as good as the people who lead it, and I’m confident these four leaders will keep our department on an upward trajectory.

“Each of them brings a unique set of skills and experiences to the table that will serve our organisation, our business partners and our passengers well.”

Operator of New York JFK’s Terminal 4, JFK International Air Terminal, has named Gert-Jan de Graaff as its new president and CEO, succeeding the retiring Alain Maca.

Long time Schiphol Group employee De Graaff has previously held senior roles at Amsterdam Schiphol and Stockholm Arlanda airports and has also worked for the Brisbane Airport Corporation, where the Schiphol Group is a 19% shareholder.

Mineta San José International Airport has appointed Meenakshi (‘Meena’) Singh as its new deputy director of aviation, planning and development. In her role, she will oversee the Airport’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

About the authors
Dr Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey are directors of This Is... They can be contacted at

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