Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African president (1918-2013), was an introvert with an INFJ personality type, according to The South African College of Applied Psychology and 16 Personalities. Today would have been his 96th birthday.
Mandela led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as South Africa’s first black president. The world revered him and he became an international symbol of equality and dignity. He described himself as a serious-minded introvert who preferred observing to participating in African National Congress meetings.
In his famous autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described how different he was from his closest childhood friend, a boy named Justice:
Justice and I became friends, though we were opposites in many ways – he was extroverted, I was introverted; he was lighthearted, I was serious.
About attending Healdtown College in the Eastern Cape:
I enjoyed the discipline and solitariness of long-distance running, which allowed me to escape from the hurly-burly of school life.
About being a young law clerk in Johannesburg and attending African National Congress meetings:
I went as an observer, not a participant, for I do not think that I ever spoke. I wanted to understand the issues under discussion, evaluate the arguments, see the calibre of the men involved.
Like most introverted leaders, Mandela believed in “leading from behind.” Editor Richard Stengel, who worked with him on his autobiography, said,
Mandela loved to reminisce about his boyhood and his lazy afternoons herding cattle. You know, [Mandela] would say, you can only lead them from behind. He would then raise his eyebrows to make sure I got the analogy.
Mandela was greatly influenced by Jongintaba, the tribal king who raised him, according to Stengel:
When Jongintaba had meetings of his court, the men gathered in a circle, and only after all had spoken did the king begin to speak. The chief’s job, Mandela said, was not to tell people what to do but to form a consensus. Don’t enter the debate too early, [Jongintaba] used to say… The trick of leadership is allowing yourself to be led too. It is wise, he said, to persuade people to do things and make them think it was their own idea.
Mandela certainly fit the description of the INFJ activist/visionary personality. According to 16 Personalities, “No other personality type is better suited to create a movement to right a wrong, no matter how big or small,” and INFJs “have very strong opinions and will fight tirelessly for an idea they believe in.”
It’s impossible to say how much Mandela’s temperament contributed to his success, because certainly his background, circumstances, personal experiences, and his own willpower also shaped him and his movement. But it’s affirming and inspiring to know that this world-changing revolutionary enjoyed solitude, reflection, and introspection, and that his vision and wisdom sprang from the mind of an introvert.