Inspiring Lessons from Jay Naidoo

Jay Naidoo is a distinctive leader and character in his own right. He is internationally respected for his role in the democratisation process of South Africa, was a prominent trade union leader, was a close associate of Nelson Mandela and served as a cabinet minister in the Nelson Mandela government. Since that time he has tackled various leadership challenges. In recent times he focused on worldwide critical issues of poverty alleviation and environmental challenges.

Jay was interviewed recently by Adriaan Groenewald, supported by Gareth Armstrong and Ellis Mnyandu on the Leadership Platform radio/internet show on Cliff Central.

He is like a breath of fresh air that stimulates us to once again consider the nature of democracy as well as the responsibilities that are attached to our political freedom. Somehow Jay takes us out of the narrow world of party politics into the real world of social changes and challenges that accompany our efforts to mould a healthy society.

The rise of the EFF

An example of Jay’s refreshing outlook on the bigger picture of a democratic society is the manner in which he comments on the rise of the EFF as a natural reflection of people deciding their own future. This does not mean that he agrees necessarily with the policies of other political parties. The core principle that Jay represents is to respect the dignity and potential of others, and he has a healthy respect for freedom of expression.

Learning from Jay

This column is about leadership principles that inspire leaders to move people and situations in a positive direction. Jay Naidoo has much to teach us that is crucially relevant to readers of the column. The following key concepts surfaced during the discussion:

The fight for power is easier than the exercise of power

To obtain political freedom is easier than the exercise of that power afterwards. We see this truth every day as our governing officials’ battle to meet service delivery challenges.  The same principle applies as we work hard to obtain leadership positions in the workplace and then find that it is not all that easy to perform in our new positions. It is one thing to obtain fat cat status. It is another thing to perform!

The quest for a Nelson Mandela

Many of us desire that another Nelson Mandela should rise up and solve our social challenges. Jay makes us aware of Nelson Mandela performing a great preparatory and training role. He gave hope but not necessarily solutions. The need now is mainly that of delivery and therefore we need to look for leaders that are able to deliver. In many ways it is much harder to deliver than to provide the necessary visionary leadership initially. Leadership in the workplace is about both vision as well as the ability to move people and situations afterwards.

Jay says that all his work at grass roots level internationally and locally convinces him that we have many Nelson Mandelas out there. We agree with Jay. It is our experience that we have a multitude of potential great leaders at all levels in our country.

Impressions of Nelson Mandela

Jay Naidoo worked closely with Nelson Mandela. He was a friend as well as a cabinet minister serving with him. What was his impression of this great iconic figure?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

His first physical encounter with Nelson Mandela left him with the abiding impression of the ability of this man to listen, of his humility, his honesty and integrity.

Jay said that all the years he was with Mandela he felt that he was working with him not for him. It takes a great leader to endow those around him with the feeling that they are working with him!

An Innovative attitude

Jay Naidoo has vast experience in the political struggle, as a close associate of Nelson Mandela and as a leader serving on international platforms. He has a passion for addressing the needs of those masses who we define as the poor and needy  His expresses strong belief that a key to solving our social challenges is for us to embrace an attitude of innovation.

Jay mentions his experience in other impoverished countries where there are many examples of people using innovation to find working solutions. These people do not necessarily rely on others or government to provide all the answers. They show a passion to innovate.

We believe from much experience that Jay’s point is relevant to all of us as well as the reader in the workplace. Be wary of the entitlement spirit that pervades our society and often found in the workplace as well. It can be a shackle that binds us to become very average, filled with frustrations and unhappiness. The chains of entitlement bind us that we fail to look at our self and make a difference as many in the world are doing and have done in the past. We may not go so far as to ‘burn and destroy’ in our workplace, but we are often inclined to be negative and critical rather than positive and innovative.

Making a difference

A leadership thought left by Jay on the Leadership Platform CliffCentral show:

“If every one of us would make the a little gesture to change the lives of somebody around us, we would be the greatest country in the world.”

This article appeared in the

The Workplace


Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

Follow Us

Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


By subscribing you will be updated with the latest insights and news from us. We never spam.