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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Yash Gupta
Business School Dean

Yash Gupta

Yash Gupta is Professor and Dean of The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

It's not smart to act as though you're indispensable

Question: Egypt's unfolding political crisis raises a broader question: Can an entrenched, powerful leader, one who has resisted change, successfully lead a country or an organization in a different direction if circumstances suddenly demand it? Or is it necessary to bring in new leadership?

Typically, leaders who become entrenched within an organization rely too much on a tried-and-true recipe for success. They come to feel that their record of accomplishments precludes any necessity for change, without noticing that the environment around them has been transformed.

This kind of leader lacks an essential ingredient of leadership--namely humility. Being humble means you're always learning, scanning the environment, respecting the competition. And it means you develop a line of succession. One of the marks of true leadership is the ability to realize when a new leader is needed, that there's actually a time to walk away for the good of the outfit. The best leaders always consider: Who's eventually going to guide the organization in a different direction when one becomes necessary? Where will the new thinking come from? No smart leader can afford to have a self-image as the indispensable man or woman.

For these reasons, I think it's impossible for an entrenched leader suddenly to change directions. The longstanding culture can't be altered overnight, even if many new faces are added. The same old boss will be running the show. He can try to bring in a bunch of new people, but he isn't likely to grant them the level of latitude required for creating real change.

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By Yash Gupta

 |  February 1, 2011; 2:11 PM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The future for Egypt could look grim | Next: Authority does not equal leadership

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I agree with Professor Gupta that no leader is indispensable and should therefore face his position with humility and respect for his followers with the understanding that there will come a time that is better for the leader to walk away for the “good of the outfit,” and to extend this logic, I believe that it is now time for President Mubarak to just that. President Mubarak’s recent announcement that he will not be seeking another term, illustrates the need for a new leader to address the issues in Egypt. President Mubarak has lost the trust of his people for his lack of support to their needs and to quote Susan Peters, “It's incredibly difficult to regain trust once it's been lost and impossible to change direction without support.” It is instead time for Egypt to move in a different direction and it cannot do that with the “same old boss.” The next generation of leaders should learn from this and be prepared to take over when previous leaders can, like President Mubarak, no longer lead their people. While it is important for leaders to be flexible and prepared to adjust their leadership styles, one should also remember that regaining trust is a difficult process and one that leaders often do not have the time to do when considering the immediate needs of their people.

Posted by: katskilton | February 4, 2011 5:06 AM
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