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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

Dear Sultan or King or Your Highness

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?

Dear Sultan or King or Your Highness,

Step One: Immediately draft a tutor to help you understand "social networking." Do not repeat the mistake of Mubarak who was pig-ignorant about the contagious power of the Internet. The young--in Egypt 40 percent of the population is 35 and under--are more familiar with Facebook than your official daily newspaper.

Step Two: Keep in mind that among your own and other Middle Eastern countries, there has been no stable civil society for centuries. Nor is there the infrastructure for that, let alone a fully democratic state. Transitioning into a situation where your various constituencies (or "subjects" in some cases) can put together the scaffolding for a new and stable order will not take weeks, or months, or even two to three years. No one knows, with any certitude, how long such advances take; especially so for a royal dynasty or a charismatic dictatorship. If any of your advisors tell you they know, fire them. Figure on a time period between today and the end of this decade, maybe longer. That's an optimistic guess based on a number of issues--such as raising employment rates, developing a middle class, plus other factors so the young will have something else to do other than join a roiling mob, not only because of anger and desperation but to gain purpose, power and a sense of community.

Step Three: Now we're getting to the hard part. The first two steps are easy compared to what must be done asap! Hold open town meetings at every highly populated city throughout the country. You must participate, even for a short time, in as many of these open forums as possible and LISTEN to the anger and the furies you may be surprised to hear. Remember that when Gandhi returned to India in 1946, he spent his entire first year walking around India from village to village, in his dhoti, listening to one and all, struggling to learn the basis for their fears, their sense of utter helplessness. He's worth emulating. As you may know, there's an old Middle Eastern saying about leaders who fail because they have "tired ears." Their leaders stopped listening! With all due respect, your honor, you must ask yourself if your people believe your ears are tired. Mubarak's certainly were. Send your most credible envoys out across the country to listen to the people and try to understand their strong and deeply felt resentments. Sometimes listening, by itself, can absorb and even dissipate some of the protesters' long-held resentments toward you and your government. But don't count on it. It's only a beginning. The final and hardest step follows.

Step Four: You must possess the will power, now that you understand the causes and concerns of the enraged mobs, to take action! To move first and quickly on those issues that are the most intensely felt! Paradoxically, you alone have the power to move your country to a more stable, more viable and prouder sovereign state. In closing, allow me to paraphrase what King George III said about my own country's founder, President George Washington. His majesty said that if Mr. Washington authorizes a freely elected leader to succeed him, he will go down in history as the greatest man who ever lived.

With deep respect,
Warren Bennis

By Warren Bennis

 |  February 22, 2011; 10:35 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: There's no good strategy | Next: How to build democracy


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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!

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)

all hail white supremacist [judeo-christian] racism.

long live the "king" - [judeo-christian]white supremacist racism (now with indoctrinated black fugnuts)

Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:37 AM
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I think it becomes most obvious that the next step in all levels of leadership is a deep understanding of the first step as stated above. Understanding social media is crucial for anyone from presidents/prime ministers/kings/etc. to universities. It is not just a phase that society is going through, but it is something that they easily understand, making it even more important. It is not until most countries, corporations, or even businesses, not even just those of the middle east, realize this, the opportunity for events like those that happened in Egypt will remain a threat.

Posted by: hkaitchura | February 23, 2011 3:31 PM
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Simple. You loot the country treasury and move to Goldman Sachs, Bank Of America, Citi or ome other Wall Street firm as one of their partner's. Then, you get to lie, cheat steal, murder, pillage, act like a Nazi and claim to be a Jew, you get to wallow in drugs, money, wh*res, Satan himself calls you "brother", as one of the God's of the financial services industry you control the fates of nations, and the President shakes and holds his head lowered in your presence, appoints you as an economic advisor, and the New York Times names you Man of The Year or some other such pathetic nonsense.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | February 23, 2011 9:03 AM
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Thank you Warren for another wise and prescient piece along the path to peace on Earth. BTW regarding George Washington, you might find this germane: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-goulston-md/president-obama-and-shade_b_164345.html

Posted by: mgoulston | February 22, 2011 2:49 PM
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