Four obstacles for Mubarak
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?
If lessons can be learned from the business world, then an entrenched powerful leader who has resisted change can seldom lead an organization in a different direction. While there is the occasional leader who can do this, most often they cannot. Why? There are a number of reasons ranging from the psychological to systemic.
Threat-rigidity: When people are faced with a threatening situation, they often respond with rigidity. Rather than being open to innovation and new ways of coping, inertia ensues and old patterns become dominant. The human system simply closes down a bit, keeping new information at bay and relying on habitual moves. In this mode, shifting gears is not an option.
Loss of power and control: To lead an organization, or a country, in a new direction requires unraveling existing structures and systems. As these systems begin to fall, existing support for the leader can wither away and power erode. Since change also requires using new skills that have not been perfected, revolutionary change puts a leader in a vulnerable position--a position that most leaders want to avoid.
The cork is out of the bottle: If there is a system where people have been repressed, unemployment is high and emotions have been smoldering, then the pressure builds; and when the cork is pulled out, it is very hard to put it back in. Add to the explosion a touch of social contagion, fueled through technology, with people influencing others to join the cause, and there is no going back.
Symbol of the old: Even if a leader is able to change and wants to lead in a new direction, he or she has already moved beyond being just a person to being a symbol of the old system. As such, change often involves new leadership as a pivotal signal that the old way is gone and change is coming.
Of course, perhaps even these obstacles can be overcome if there is a true desire to shift direction, but Mubarak has certainly not signaled such an aspiration. Yet revolutionaries beware--taking a regime apart is a lot easier than putting a new one in place.
February 1, 2011; 10:39 AM ET
Category: Crisis leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:
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