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Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman is on the faculty of at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author, most recently, of Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters and Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

Hell bent on chasing them down

Q: Opposition protests against Kyrgystan's government today, like the protests in Iran late last year, demonstrate the power of citizens to challenge and even overthrow their political leaders. How can leaders recognize the signs of growing rage among followers? In the age of YouTube and Twitter, do citizens and followers have more power to challenge leaders?

Were it not tragic it would be ironic: While the American president was meeting with the Russian president in the Czech Republic to sign a new nuclear-arms agreement, the drama was elsewhere. Obama and Medvedev were bonding in Prague Castle, but at the same time blood was flowing in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

From what seemed like one moment to the next, a revolution had taken place, the dead and wounded testifying to its vigor and virulence. Protesters had taken to the streets, determined to overthrow the existing regime. They in turn were fired at by police, who themselves were quickly overwhelmed by the power of the people. In a heartbeat the Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, was forced to flee, to be replaced by Roza Otunbayeva, who in previous incarnations was both a diplomat and instructor of Marx-Leninist theory.

The juxtaposition is a perfect parable for the way leaders and followers relate in the 21st century.

Now as before leaders appear in control. A week ago Presidents Obama and Bakiyev seemed to have the upper hand, even in Kyrgyzstan. The Obama administration was convinced it had successfully persuaded -- or, better, bought off -- Bakiyev to continue to grant American rights to Manas, a key military base used to supply allied forces in Afghanistan. And Bakiyev himself, despite domestic tensions, considered he was secure in his position as president, impervious to the indignity of being suddenly deposed.

Now though the worm has turned. As a result of ordinary people being fed up with a regime they experienced as repressive, the Obama administration will have to scramble to hold on to Manas, and Bakiyev is likely as not to become a permanent pariah. Of the key players, only Medvedev and, of course, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, might yet profit from these recent events. They might yet get to see the American base on what not long ago was Soviet soil closed.

What happened this week in Kyrgyzstan is by now familiar. The best-laid plans of the best situated leaders are vulnerable as never before to followers with their own agendas and the determination and drive to get their way. Of course the authorities will forever try to stop them - for example censors in China and Iran are trying with some success to control the heretofore uncontrollable Internet.

But in the long run the battle is a losing one. For times have changed in ways that leaders, and for that matter, followers, have yet fully to grasp. As Pope Benedict XVI might be the first to testify, culture and technology are now such that no one in authority, no matter how highly positioned, is free of followers hell bent on chasing them down.

By Barbara Kellerman

 |  April 9, 2010; 11:39 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Great day for the Kirgyze people, they got rid of an US supported crook and thieve. They next will be the US crook in Georgia Sakashvili.

Putin knows what he does. America is to busy to commit crimes for the Zionist friends.
The START treaty was another Obama P.R. stunt and has no meaning and the NPT agreement has been broken several times by the US by giving Nukes to Britain and the none state entity Israel. The upcoming NPT conference in the White House will be a challenge, especial if the Arab countries plus Turkey will ask Israel to sign the NPT or otherwise will go and build their own nukes.

Get real Americans! You, just can't say like the old German Nazis "Hitler made me doing this, it wasn't me". It is you who murdered since the end of World War II almost 100 million civilians around the globe. Proud to be an American?

Posted by: holocaustgaza | April 10, 2010 9:00 PM
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It could happen here.

Posted by: Etek | April 10, 2010 5:21 PM
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I agree with hofbrauhouse...when people from outlying areas come into Washington, it will be another beer hall putsch...

Posted by: tjhall1 | April 10, 2010 3:40 PM
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Obama was blindsided by the Russians. While he was signing treaties with a stooge Medvedev and celebrating "the new beginnings" with Moscow, Putin was busy orchestrating the removal of American ally in Bishkek. Now the new "government" there sits under a banner which says - literally - "Dirty Jews Out". Parse that.

Posted by: arik67 | April 10, 2010 12:54 PM
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While this op-ed may offer a conventionally sound opinion on political change, it really is not helpful for understanding what just happened in Kyrgyzstan. For a much more insightful analysis, see the op-ed by Eric McGlinchey in today's (Saturday) NYT.

Posted by: TJeremyGunn | April 10, 2010 5:26 AM
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The U.S. Congress is next.

Posted by: hofbrauhausde | April 10, 2010 5:01 AM
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