On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Scott DeRue
Leadership professor

Scott DeRue

Scott DeRue is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business. With Maxim Sytch, he created the student-driven Leadership Seminar discussion group.

Irony of opposition leaders

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?

People want to have a say in the course of their own lives. Human beings, by nature, want a voice in their own future. It is a sense of self-determinism that is inherent in us all. And not only do people want a voice, but when given that voice, those same people perform better, feel better, and are more committed to their organizations and communities.

Research from Michigan State professor Linn Van Dyne and her colleagues clearly shows the power of giving voice to people. What we are seeing with the protests in Iran and Kyrgystan are citizens demanding a voice. And social media platforms such as YouTube and Twitter are providing citizens with a new form of voice that has global reach and local influence.

So, how can leaders recognize the signs of growing tension before that tension develops into all-out rage and rebellion? That part is actually quite simple - just listen. But therein lies the problem. The tendency for autocratic leaders is to suppress the voice of people, and operate under the doctrine of "we know what is best for you." The ironic part is that, in cases such as Iran and Kyrgystan, opposition leaders gain popular support because they do listen to the needs of people, and then leverage that knowledge to win support for their own claim to power.

Unfortunately, once in power, those same leaders will usually forget that listening to the people and their needs for leadership is what enabled them to come into power in the first place. Autocrats that come into power must recognize the importance of giving voice to people. I am not suggesting that every nation institute a democratic government; I fully respect the freedom to choose other forms of government. However, autocratic leaders who wish to maintain their power and not be the target of mass uprising must listen to their people and understand their needs for leadership.

Leaders under any form of government will inevitably make decisions that are not always popular and do not conform to the majority. But at least make people feel heard and that they had an opportunity to provide input into the process. Otherwise, with the emergence of social media platforms, people will find ways to broadcast and spread their discontent--and that discontent will ultimately be the basis for an opposition's claim to power.

By Scott DeRue

 |  April 8, 2010; 6:27 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Addicted to self-destruction | Next: Explosive but not spontaneous

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



"The tendency for autocratic leaders is to suppress the voice of people, and operate under the doctrine of "we know what is best for you. .....Unfortunately, once in power, those same leaders will usually forget that listening to the people and their needs for leadership is what enabled them to come into power in the first place."
------------------------------
So true - and not just in Kyrgystan. You could have quoted G.K. Chesterson, who wrote in "The Hammer of God" that "a man sees great things from the valley, and small things from the mountaintop". Or Sherlock Holmes - "None are as blind as those that WILL not see".

Alas, your words are so appropriate for our elected officials today - especially those who dig in their heels and REFUSE to work in the best interests of the American people who voted for them.

Posted by: shadowmagician | April 8, 2010 1:03 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company