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

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
Scholar/Administrator

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw is currently the director of executive leadership programs at Wharton. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Crush the rebellion or leave

Question: Put yourself in the shoes of an autocratic Middle Eastern leader: Let peaceful protests continue and you could easily wind up out of power, like Egypt's Mubarak. Or get tough with the protests and you'll certainly lose popular and international support. What's the best strategy for holding onto power without harming the country?

When the basis for your rule has been fear, intimidation and a firm control of information, what can you do when your people suddenly become aware that there's a limit to your power?

When a country's leaders have established this type of relationship with citizens, the choices are simple. Crush the rebellion, or leave the country. Many of the strategies that might be available in more representative governments (like negotiation, compromise or gradual accommodation) are out of reach in autocratic dynasties. These choices are inconsistent with the image desired and created by autocrats.

Unfortunately, the situation in Libya will end poorly. Like an apocalyptic cult leader, Gaddafi can see no future for Libya outside his own rule. Gaddafi is Libya.

Libyan citizens have seen other autocratic governments fall, and now have access to the means to communicate and build momentum for the movement against the government. Hope (and laptops) lights even the darkest corners of Benghazi and Tripoli. There will be no getting this cat back in the bag.

Autocratic Middle Eastern leaders are going the way of the dinosaur, the ability to suppress and control their populations through fear and isolation waning. The critical question involves the extent to which they are willing to terrorize and brutalize their own citizens to retain power.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  February 23, 2011; 11:27 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Two ways to stay in power | Next: Bring critics into the fold

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



i would wipe out the indigenous population and place the remnants of them on reservations... then i would enslave whatever "races" required to build monuments to the great racists of my race... then i would free the slaves except abide by policies that keep them - except for a token few - in obviously subservient positions (of course the tokens would serve my agenda - which i and my media would never refer to as "racist"...)...

I would create the illusion of "equal protection" under law - except that “When the custody of children [or anything else I decide...] is the question … the best interest of the children [or some other interest of my choosing...] {shall be} the paramount fact. [Constitutional and inalienable] rights of father and mother [or whatever class of citizens i declare...] sink into insignificance before that.” Kartman v. Kartman, 163 Md. 19, 22,161 A. 269 (1932) - the names of the cases would be subject to the victims that come before my court...

in short, i would run my nation so that it appears to provide "freedom", balance of political powers, and "justice" except that only the wealthy of my race would enjoy freedom - so long as they 'served both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for the members of my race.'

I would do what "white" Americans do!

e.g.,
I would ensure that "black" women and girls feel better about themselves whenever they abandon loving the natural texture of thier own hair and instead straighten it to appear more "white" American - like the First Lady and her children: Sasha and Malia (all in the best interest of the children of course) lol

Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:30 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The options suggested assume the despot can leave. The problem in Libya is the 'royal' family has no where to go, thus, making a show of "strength" by saying willing to stay until death. Who will take them? A simple but true part of the problem there. Rulers elsewhere are looking at moving options -- end of game moves.

Posted by: rgcope | February 27, 2011 1:05 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I'd introduce all my thug friends to Atropa belladonna (some of my aunts never go anywhere without nightshade) during brunch. Just to get some elbow room. BTW, Todd, you look like someone I used to know. You think like him too. We weren't that much alike, but I admired him very much even though I could not get him to understand about the importance of picking the time and place to engage. That doesn't seem to be a problem with you, I am glad to say.

Posted by: jbksss | February 26, 2011 10:01 PM
Report Offensive Comment

If a leader has come to a situation in his country in which he must either leave his post or come down on protests in a way that is suppressive and forceful, he obviously has pushed his power beyond leadership to brute force. For a suppressed nation to be rising against a leader, there clearly has already been harm done to the country. And often, if a leader is in this situation, he may not care about the welfare of the masses, but instead may be only interested in continuing his reign. Intimidation may silence the masses, but it will not appease them. Removal of the leader from his position may free the masses from their unhappiness, but will also leave them without a clear sense of direction, which in turn may lead to chaos. Leaders must be aware of the impact they have on their followers, and must try their best to be just and truthful in their rule, so they can avoid having to make the choice of stepping down or pushing down their followers - a choice that not only is harmful to the ruler's reputation, but to the country and the people who reside there.

Posted by: kelseypedersen | February 25, 2011 2:36 PM
Report Offensive Comment

If a leader has come to a situation in his country in which he must either leave his post or come down on protests in a way that is suppressive and forceful, he obviously has pushed his power beyond leadership to brute force. For a suppressed nation to be rising against a leader, there clearly has already been harm done to the country. And often, if a leader is in this situation, he may not care about the welfare of the masses, but instead may be only interested in continuing his reign. Intimidation may silence the masses, but it will not appease them. Removal of the leader from his position may free the masses from their unhappiness, but will also leave them without a clear sense of direction, which in turn may lead to chaos. Leaders must be aware of the impact they have on their followers, and must try their best to be just and truthful in their rule, so they can avoid having to make the choice of stepping down or pushing down their followers - a choice that not only is harmful to the ruler's reputation, but to the country and the people who reside there.

Posted by: kelseypedersen | February 25, 2011 2:35 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The best strategy for holding onto power without harming the country would be to get tough with the protests. Though the autocratic leader would certainly lose popular and international support, it is much safer for the leader to be feared by his constituents then for him to be loved and taken advantage of. To keep order, a leader should severely punish a few as an example. Others will look to this punishment and see the consequences of not complying with authority. Though a leader can still have power by not acting, and not punishing constituents, in this case, the action of getting tough would legitimize the power.

Posted by: NneomaElendu | February 25, 2011 3:43 AM
Report Offensive Comment

Post a Comment




characters remaining

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company