Events in Egypt are an Echo of History and a Tutorial on Leadership

When leadership runs amok from those being led, chaos always follow

History will always reprimand and censure those who fail to abide by its lessons. Those who fail to be cognizant of history’s lessons are not destined to repeat it, but to be overwhelmed by it. Such is the case with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government. (If he is still in power by the time you read this.)

The media is wall-to-wall with coverage of the events in Egypt, but the limits of the medium means that they can only present the superficial events. These may be the action pictures needed for television, but they are not the important story. What CNN and the other media outlets are incapable of doing is offering an understanding that the events being played out in Egypt are the natural flow of history overwhelming and destroying those who either did not understand or accept the teaching power of history.

As such, there is nothing to be gained here by exploring these events. Rather, it is better to understand the forces that are driving these “rapid” changes. It is also of no value to try to predict the ultimate outcome of the tsunami-like seismic geopolitical changes that will roll across the region and the world. However, if we can gain insight as to the causes of this upheaval, we will be offered a pragmatic lesson in leadership – or lack thereof.

First some perspective; then the leadership lesson to be learned.

Writers and philosophers from at least as far back as Euripides (480-406 B.C.) have been musing about the vulnerability of leaders, governments and societies that fail to identify and preserve a social equipoise. History has warned that leaders will fail and chaos will follow when the society (also read: company, division or department) they lead does not have a balance or counter-balance between different social, emotional or intellectual influences that are inherent in any society or organization.

Repeated time and again in the republics of ancient Greece, medieval Italy and Flanders, the Soviet Empire and the Iran of the Shah, whenever one class was granted disproportional claims on the power of leadership, this invariably and inevitably proved fatal to the stability of society and the retention of power. If left unchecked, such situations lead only to revolution and revolt. Only to be followed by convulsions of power gyrating violently between tyranny and disorder.

The French Revolution offers forensic evidence that these situations not only give rise to the destruction of the favored class, but that the chaos can, and often does, overtake the class that had been victorious in bringing down the existing order; resulting in the loss of liberty for all citizens.

Even a cursory amble through the history of failed leaders and societies will show that the seeds of breakdown and destruction began to germinate as soon as power began to be consolidated with one leader or within one class and not used for the benefit of all. In simple terms,

Leaders ultimately fail when they come to stand for one special class and for their own interests, as opposed to balancing the interests of all.

Societies and organizations are like a spinning gyroscope. So long as they are properly balanced, they will spin on almost effortlessly, but when not accurately balanced, the gyroscope begins an increasingly violent wobble that eventually will cause it to careen out of control and then cease to function. A leader sets the gyroscope of a society or organization in motion, while balance gives it the power to continue on.

It is altogether likely that the American Republic has survived longer than any republic in history because of the enlightened form of government checks and balances that were specifically designed to balance power in a way so as to prevent one class of society from becoming too dominant over another, i.e. capital v labor.

Hosni Mubarak and his cohorts in Egypt serve as only the most recent example of the continuum of history. The unrest and revolution in Egypt did not begin five days, five months or five years ago, but 30 years ago when Mubarak came to power after the bloody assassination of Anwar Sadat during a victory parade in Cairo celebrating Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal. While promising to serve only one term, Mubarak began a conscious and systematic effort to consolidate power and privilege within an increasingly smaller class of Egyptian society. Mubarak’s leadership allowed (encouraged) Egyptian society to become more and more unbalanced and as it did, it tilted inexorably toward revolt.

It is doubtful – but possible – that Mubarak will survive. But troops and tanks in the streets are only a short-term relief. If he and his reshuffled government do survive for the long term, it will only happen because of an honest and conscientious effort to “re-balance” society in a way that does not favor one class disproportionately over another. It is highly unlikely that Mubarak and his associates understand this reality, so they, like many before them are destined to be overwhelmed by history.

And Now for the Leadership Lesson

To be successful as a leader in any venue – be it military, political, social or business – the most important principle to learn is that the authority to lead comes from above, but the stability of power to lead comes from below.

The constitution may give the president the authority to lead, but without the support of the people, he is powerless to act. A boss may give an individual the authority to lead a department, but unless he gains the support of those in the department, he will be virtually powerless and ultimately fail.

All leaders at all levels are faced with a wide and sometimes conflicting array of “stake holders.” How the leader responds, balances and satisfies the interests of the different “classes” will determine the extent and longevity of his power, along with the success or failure of the group or organization. While the leader may sit upon the peak of the pyramid of authority, the power of that authority comes from the base below.

The successful leader always asks: What is best for those below? The successful leader is always cognizant of and seeks to balance the interests of all, rather than the few. The insightful leader does not disproportionally favor one group or class over another. The more a leader is successful at accomplishing this objective, the more trust and respect he will garner from those below and the more power that will be bestowed upon him.

A political leader, for example, is often faced with conflicting expectations and demands from both management and labor. To be successful the leader must be able to balance these interests and not disproportionally favor one group over the other. It may seem that I am suggesting the leader should be “all things to all people,” but that is not the case. What I am suggesting is that to be successful, a leader must be open, honest, candid, and consistent and most of all balanced in dealing with each group or class. Only with this approach can issues be resolved, the organization or society continues to function and the leader maintains power and authority. What many fail to realize is that it is this “balanced” approach to leadership that ultimately gives the leader maximum power.

The same is true in the business world. The leader is challenged to meet the needs and interests of shareholders, employees, customers and vendors. Only when these interests are balanced, with one group not being disproportionally favored over another, will the organization thrive and the leader then achieve success.

Is the leadership of an organization balanced when the objective is to maximize profits for shareholders, regardless of the interests of employees or customers?

Is the leadership of an organization balanced when the senior executives receive compensation packages that dwarf what employees and shareholders receive?

When a leader allows such imbalance, he sets in motion the ticking clock of historical failure.

And the Moral of the Story …

Hosni Mubarak, like many before him, did not heed history’s lessons of leadership. He did not understand nor accept that he was here to serve the interests of all the people in a balanced way. Instead, he tilted the gyroscope of society in a way that put it out of balance with itself and for that he – and unfortunately the Egyptian society – will pay the price for failed leadership.

If you seek to be a successful leader, take this to heart as a lesson of history. Only by doing so will you re-write history. In the meantime, Egypt’s Mubarak would do well to heed the words of Euripides, who said, “Events will take their course. It is no good of being angry at them; he is happiest who wisely turns them to the best account.”

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