What makes a great leader?

Ken Adelman is currently vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which conducts executive training through leadership lessons from Shakespeare. Ambassador Adelman began teaching Shakespeare in 1977 at Georgetown University, and later with honors students at George Washington University.

During the Reagan Administration, Ken Adelman was an Ambassador to the United Nations and then Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, accompanying President Reagan on his superpower summits with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Adelman was a philosophy major at Grinnell College and then attended Georgetown University, where he received a Masters in Foreign Service Studies and Doctorate in Political Theory.

He is the author of five books -- including co-author of Shakespeare in Charge -- and hundreds of articles, was for 20 years national editor of Washingtonian magazine, and for six years a member of the Defense Policy Board. 

While living in Africa from 1972 to 1975, Adelman translated for Mohammed Ali during “The Rumble in the Jungle” heavyweight championship fight in Zaire, and participated in the Zaire River Expedition, venturing down the Congo River on the 100th Anniversary of Stanley’s exploration.

  • Transcript


Ken Adelman:  An insight on where to go; bring the future into the present; and then an ability to motivate people to really get it; and a real appreciation of symbols, and that is a tremendous gift. If I could just tell you one story. When I think of Nelson Mandela, there is about 20 episodes in his mind and life that I really . . . I think about. But the one that really got me was when Mandela was first in office, or just released . . . I don’t even know if he was president. I think he was president then. But at any rate, the Afrikaanas . . . Africans who really did resist very much . . . and it was F.W. de Clerk who really inspired them and moved them along; but they were still not comfortable with a black leader of South Africa, which I never thought would happen. Anyway, they were the worst of the Apartheid supporters. They were all rugby players and rugby fans. And there was a rugby tournament that ended up in South Africa by chance ________ by chance, unless you believe in something ________. And so the stadium basically had 100,000 screaming Africans . . . Afrikaanas there going for, cheering for the South African rugby team. And they were playing Germany, or France, or somebody like that in Johannesburg. And I’m sure there wasn’t three blacks in the crowd of 100,000. And if so they were just selling concessions or something like that. Anyway Nelson Mandela shows up that day, goes into the locker room at half time, says, “Come on. I hope you win this” and everything. And he says, “Can I wear one of your uniforms?” He puts on the uniform of the . . . of the rugby team, goes out, screams his lungs out for that. He is asked afterward, you know “How could you . . .?”

“These are our boys. These are out brothers. These are our . . .” After that time, and he said that at the time . . . After that time, they won the match. The leading team . . . I’m sure they were all ________. I shouldn’t say that; but I mean they were certainly for the white regime there. They took Mandela, put him on their shoulders, took him around, and everybody was not only shouting for the rugby victory, but the whole stadium . . . 110,000 people shouting, “Mandela! Mandela!” This was the symbolic move that said, “We’re all South Africans. These are my boys, and I want my boys to win out there. That’s a beautiful story. That is an exceptional leader. You know, I’m sure that when Mandela says, “I’m gonna go see the rugby match today,” his whole staff said, “You don’t wanna see a rugby match. Those aren’t our people. ________”

Recorded on: 7/2/07