John Carlin
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John Carlin

Award-Winning Journalist and New York Times Best-Selling Author, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, Inspiration for the Oscar-Nominated Film, Invictus

Award-winning journalist and author John Carlin speaks on the principle set out by the 18th-century British writer Samuel Johnson: “the purpose is to instruct by pleasing.” Shunning dullness as a cardinal sin, his presentations blend a wealth of rich, emotive anecdotes with a deep seriousness of purpose. He offers enduring lessons on the art of leadership and the resolution of conflict while provoking from his audiences smiles, laughter and, not infrequently, tears.

Mandela: The Human Factor in Great Leadership

John Carlin, who is equally at ease in English or in Spanish and never speaks from a prepared text, will center his speeches on a man who, like Abraham Lincoln, belongs to the ages, whose lessons and example will ring as valuable and true in a thousand years as they do today. Carlin will select his material in such a way as to maximize the value of his spoken words in accordance with the needs and interests of each audience. For some, lessons in negotiating with rivals might be the key issue; for others, building up a company that has fallen on difficult times; or restoring bruised internal personnel conflicts; or how to blend tactical flexibility with strategic clarity. Then again, some might consider it paramount to learn how Mandela addressed himself to the eternal question of healing race relations. All audiences will be interested, however, in the chief themes that run through all Carlin’s speeches on Mandela: generosity astutely deployed; patient wisdom and bold perseverance; enormous empathy and respect for all people, irrespective of their station in life; integrity—a diamond-hard coherence between what one preaches and what one does—as the engine of all truly convincing, successful leadership.

Meet John Carlin

Award-winning journalist and author John Carlin speaks on the principle set out by the 18th-century British writer Samuel Johnson: “the purpose is to instruct by pleasing.” Shunning dullness as a cardinal sin, his presentations blend a wealth of rich, emotive anecdotes with a deep seriousness of purpose. He offers enduring lessons on the art of leadership and the resolution of conflict while provoking from his audiences smiles, laughter and, not infrequently, tears.

A world authority on Nelson Mandela, whom he knew well, John Carlin uses the example of the model leader of modern times, warmly generous and cold-bloodedly pragmatic at the same time, as an inspiration for business and political leaders, as well as for ordinary people of whatever social station or walk of life seeking an example to follow of integrity, generosity and respect for all. Carlin formally interviewed Mandela half a dozen times but also engaged in countless informal conversations with him in political and social settings. What he found was a visionary who had mastered the art of making friends and influencing people; a leader whose powers of persuasion were so great that he stopped what threatened to be a ghastly racial war by making the inhabitants of a bitterly divided nation abandon their hatreds and change their collective minds.

After leaving South Africa, Carlin wrote and produced an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary called The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela and an Emmy-winning ESPN documentary, The 16th Man. He wrote the book Playing the Enemy on which the Clint Eastwood film Invictus was based. Working with Eastwood, as well as actors Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, was, as Carlin told interviewers, "both a rare privilege and an immense pleasure." Playing the Enemy was described by The New York Times as "a wonderful book" about "Mandela's methodical, improbable and brilliant campaign to reconcile resentful blacks and fearful whites." The Financial Times described it as "an all-knowing portrait of Nelson Mandela by one of the journalists who knows him best."

The book was also applauded for the brilliance of its writing, a wit, insight and way with words that Carlin brings to his speeches. After hearing him speak, always without notes, enthralled audiences all over the world have frequently said they would happily have continued listening to him for hours more. When his audiences are people in business, Carlin considers it essential to learn first about the particular concerns and challenges of the organization he is addressing, the better to tailor his message usefully to their needs. But in all cases, the effect of his spoken words is inspirational and instructive, of equal value at a human and a professional level. In an era when cynicism towards politicians is widespread, the message Carlin conveys, through the example of Mandela, is that it’s not only possible but also materially valuable to be a master strategist, a canny tactician, a dazzlingly effective leader and a good person all in one.

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