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Amy Fraher
Scholar/Military leader

Amy Fraher

Amy L. Fraher is a retired Navy Commander and Aviator,Director of the International Team Training Center at San Diego Miramar College. Her book Thinking Through Crises comes out Spring 2011

Leadership: Part action, part perception

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?

Leadership is part action and part perception. It's not only what a leader does that creates support, it's how those actions are perceived by others, particularly a leader's constituents.

The case of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak's loss of support after three decades of largely uncontested rule is obviously quite complex. Yet, on one level, what it reveals is how once a leader loses support--whether a politician, CEO, military officer or other person in a position of formal authority--it becomes extremely difficult to reclaim it. No matter how powerful that person may be, without followers there can be no leadership.
The leader-follower relationship is built upon a delicate balance of power and trust exchanged through both formal and informal acts of authority. Although President Mubarak may still hold the 'formal' authority of his role, it's informal authority that is now at stake.

Informal authority is constituted through personal attributes and actions that instill a sense of confidence in followers, who in turn confer trust and power on someone to act on their behalf. Once that power-trust balance is lost, particularly in such a dramatic way as has been occurring in Cairo, chaos and fear start to dominate. It is now time for new leadership. Ironically, stepping down would be the only way for President Mubarak to start to rebuild his informal authority.

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By Amy Fraher

 |  February 1, 2011; 10:27 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Egypt needs a new leader | Next: Mubarak's chance for better legacy

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For a authority figure who has betrayed the storied hopes of his people, it is an extraordinarily complicated process to successfully change direction when circumstances have come to a head. The informal authority by which he rules lies in the people's agreement with the story he conveys through words, actions, and his personal life. When that story comes to utterly contradict the people's desires and they lose confidence in the figure, he himself must embrace great personal change or risk losing all relevance.

President Mubarak's 30 year record is entrenched in the minds of the Egyptian people, however, and, to be frank, speaks for itself. To announce that he is reversing direction in the face of 30 years history would be a highly unconvincing act. Rather, if President Mubarak is to lead the country into a new direction, he must transform overnight into the effective leader he should have been all along. He must harness the great energies released by the people's protests to enact great democratic change of his own and co-opt their movement. He must overthrow his own corrupt government, replacing his officials with judicious ones and setting the framework for political democracy. When all is said and done, he must resign. Only then, in good faith, can he begin anew and regain legitimate political capital among the people.

It takes an extraordinary man to enact such changes with sufficient vigor, to recreate himself into an extraordinary story for the people. What I have outlined is by no means the only means of narrating that story, but all such stories share the same complexities. It is unlikely that President Mubarak would think to reinvent himself in such a way, however, even with the help of additional, competent leadership. Entrenched leaders such as he have cultivated a habit of intransigence difficult to relinquish.

Posted by: JustinNg | February 4, 2011 2:55 PM
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I agree with the emphasis on President Mubarak's loss of informal authority. Without the informal authority based on characteristics and actions that earn the confidence of the followers, formal authority holds much less sway. When followers begin to question a leader's character, morality, and judgment, trust is lost. In the case of President Mubarak, after thirty years of leadership that have resulted in the loss of the trust of the population. Even if President Mubarak made attempts to implement changes, the people would be skeptical of his intentions. As Amy Fraher stated, President Mubarak could start to rebuild his informal authority by stepping down. By doing so, he would show the followers that he is willing to put their demands before his benefit.

Posted by: EdithTeng | February 4, 2011 12:56 AM
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