In Blog, Bruce Recommends, Personal Development
Have you ever dreamed of doing something truly great? Here’s what the world’s truly greatest leaders all have in common…

Earlier this year, I met Jean Oelang – the CEO of Virgin Unite, Richard Branson’s not-for-profit organization.

Jean was involved in helping select a group of the worlds greatest leaders (including Nelson Mandela) to be a part of The Elders (read more about them in the box below).

The Elders

The Elders

As I read more about the inception of The Elders, I learned that a strict criteria was used to ensure that only people of the highest caliber were selected for the group.

I personally love this set of criteria and they spoke to me in a way that called me to become the kind of person who could have been selected too.

I’m sharing them here with you in the hope that they will call you to becoming a greater version of yourself and do something truly great in your life.

Who are The Elders?

The Elders are a kind of political dream team, a dozen of the most widely respected world leaders alive today, whose glittering CV’s and unimpeachable commitment to human rights are supposed to open doors that would remain closed to less influential figures.

Their figurehead is secular saint Nelson Mandela; the group also includes Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Irish president and UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and, in absentia, Burmese democracy activist Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

The group may well have the highest concentration of Nobel prize-winners in the world, with five of its 12 members recipients of the honor.

The idea is that they can exert influence and bring attention to humanitarian crises that might otherwise go unnoticed or unsolved. Between the 12 of them, they command access to an unrivaled network of leaders that, in theory, means that they can make a difference in contexts where other means like governmental interventions might have failed.

What Truly Great Leaders Have In Common…

Through a process of discussion and elimination, a set of criteria began to emerge for how to select prospective Elders.

  • The first, and most important, was that they should not be currently involved in politics; they should have no personal agenda, vested interest or bias.
  • They should have earned international trust, demonstrated outstanding integrity and built a reputation for non-coercive leadership.
  • They should have displayed moral courage. In other words, they had been in some situation that had demanded them to stand up against oppressive forces, dictatorship or whatever.
  • They should have made a real difference to very large numbers of people in some way that had dramatically changed their lives. Muhammad Yunus was a good example of someone who has devised a replicable and massively important technique for lifting people out of poverty, surmounted all the difficulties and actually made it work.
  • They should have demonstrated that they can move beyond their own fear in a significant way. Nelson Mandela would be the obvious example there, having put up with 27 years of incarceration and facing fear daily in the early days.
  • They should have the ability to listen.
  • They should have a sense of humor – as all truly great people do. Archbishop Tutu absolutely epitomizes that. Interestingly, this wasn’t a criterion, but it emerged as a common trait of all the people chosen.
Imagine what the world would look like if the leaders of the countries of the world displayed all these traits?

What would your life look like if you adopted some of these traits?


P.S. Another trait that emerged was that all the members of The Elders also had an extraordinary relationship with their spouse. I wrote about it here.

P.P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, please share it below and leave a comment below. I want to know what you think…

Showing 3 comments
  • Karen Phillips

    I love getting such distilled observations from you, Bruce. You capture the essence so well and save me lots of research.

    I believe you that all 12 have great marriages, but in the case of Nelson Mandela I was surprised. He has married 3 times and his current wife was 53 to his 80 when they married. He had to pay for her, a sizeable sum from what I have read. Somehow that doesn’t sound very romantic, but if it works for them, lovely!

  • Tina Griffith

    Very inspiring story, took me to a different level of what I was expecting. Creative and thought provoking. Thank you for your time and effort. With another thought, are you ever too old to make something great with your life? If so, when? Do you ever feel that way? I sure do. Thanks again. TG

    • Bruce Muzik

      Hey Tina,

      It’s never to late to live the life you want to live.

      You can start now, by being someone truly great in this moment.

      All DOING comes from BEING and all the great leaders I mention above LIVE by the great principles in that list of criteria i.e. integrity, moral courage, listening, moving beyond fear, humor and love.

      Nelson Mandela saved South Africa from apartheid because of who he was, not because of what he did.

      What do you feel moved to do if you were to take on just one of those principles and BE it today?

      Perhaps you would tell your lover you love him, or help an old person cross a road.

      Be it. Do it.

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