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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

The compulsion to stay in power

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?

"Let me tell you about the very rich," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote famously. "They are different from you and me."

The question of whether the despots of the Middle East, or anywhere for that matter, will give up power as a means of making things for their people is moot. They will fight to hold onto power because their authority does two things: keeps them in charge and allows them to dispense the wealth to those who will support their regime. Such despots are driven from power; they do not surrender it willingly.

What should happen is what is happening now. Those who have been suppressed are rising up demanding a share in the economic pie as well as a voice in how they are governed. Neither will happen without a struggle.

The situations of such power-made potentates has a parallel to self-made entrepreneurs who once having built a business and a fortune have difficulty handing off control to others, be it family members or professional managers. (There is one major difference; entrepreneurs have earned their fortune honestly, not stolen it from the public.)

Dealing with such entrepreneurs on management--that is, doing what is right for the business rather than right for their own ego--is a dicey proposition. Most self-made tycoons have woven their esteem and power inextricably. They believe that they and only they are capable of running the business properly. Typically money is not the issue; they have made enough. Power is their elixir.

The way to reach such independent business folks is by appealing to their legacy. It falls to family members or professional managers to address how the entrepreneur wants to be remembered: as one who built a business and handed it over gracefully, or one who built it and ran it into the ground.

This was Henry Ford's problem. He would not relinquish the reins to his only son, Edsel. Henry's constant upbraiding and disapproval drove the son, who had the talent to lead but not the constitution, to an early grave. It took his grandson, Henry Ford II, to wrest control and rescue the company, which he did upon becoming its president in 1945.

Not all family-run enterprises run afoul. Many entrepreneurs want to see their children run the business and so they groom them for leadership roles from an early age. Typically such apprenticeships include a lot of grunt work; that is, doing the jobs of front-line employees to get a feel for the business and its customers.

Despots could learn from such entrepreneurs in another way: ensuring that the business will treat its employees well. Dictators view their populace as fools to be exploited not as citizens to be respected. This is the reason they are so despised. After all, despots are different from you and me.

By John Baldoni

 |  February 22, 2011; 10:26 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Second chances are sometimes possible | Next: There's no good strategy


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I'm doomed, so I'm not like them.

Posted by: jobandon | February 27, 2011 2:14 PM
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An architect designs structure to fit the landscape. A landscape architect changes land and you end up with structures that don't work and bad debts. You spend eternity in a romantic landscape. We try to speed up that process for you. Play ball where it lays and build on lot as it is. They'll need more plots.

Posted by: jobandon | February 27, 2011 2:07 PM
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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)

The compulsion to stay in power requires judeo-christian white supremacists to employ racist policies and preclude media from pointing out how it victimized young children such as the President's daughters (except no doubt that racists [and indoctrinated black fugnuts] see no issue regarding sending wooly haired black girls to an all white school - except with straightened hair...)

"What is racism?

Racism is racial prejudice that has been incorporated into the activities and procedures of major institutions, corporations, social systems (such as those related to housing, education, and health), and other arenas of major social activity (such as politics, the media, finance, and banking). Racism serves both to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for White Americans."
Excerpts from what was Written by ..., PhD
At the request of the American Psychological Association
Public Interest Directorate

I wonder what's on TV tonight

Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:50 AM
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A potential strategy for quelling the resistance movements in autocratic countries is to shift the focus of the protestors from the “us vs them” mentality to the “us vs the system” mentality. Here the despot can curtail the resistance by identifying the protestors’ needs and aligning these sentiments with the currently instated regime. Although “the system” has been imposed by the current leader for years and the repressive natures of the regime have become commonplace, a successful leader will recognize that relinquishing a small partition of power is crucial. It is one part compromise for the future and one part reconciliation of wrongdoings in the past.

As Mr. Baldoni states, the situations surrounding the rise of these “power-made potentates” means that the relinquishment of power is not only unnatural, but also sometimes unheard of to the autocratic leader. Thus, unless there is a transformation of the leader, supported and legitimized by the people, the autocrat cannot hold onto a power that has already dissipated with extreme measures of force, which may temporarily quell the uprising, but in the long run, destroy chances of peace and positive reconstruction.

Posted by: sherrylin | February 25, 2011 9:47 AM
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