On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Angel Cabrera
Academic President

The Internet has turned leadership upside down

Question: Through the effective use of online social media, a small group of political amateurs were able to organize and instigate street demonstrations across Egypt that now threaten to topple the Mubarak regime. How does their success change our notions of what leadership in the Internet age is all about?

Otherwise hailed as visionary, Malcolm Gladwell caused a stir last week--and became the target of rather passionate and unflattering 140-character-long jabs--because he dared argue that social media had nothing to do with the riots in Egypt. "People with a grievance," he wrote in the New Yorker, "will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place."

The fact that Gladwell chose a blog to make his point, and that the controversy he ignited spread like fire overnight around the world thanks precisely to social media, makes his argument self-defeating. If that weren't enough, the decision by the Egyptian regime to unplug the Internet immediately after the popular uprising should clear any doubt. There is evidence that Facebook and other platforms helped shed light on recent police abuses, lent a powerful and immediate loudspeaker to unhappy citizens and allowed otherwise uncoordinated groups and individuals to set in place a remarkable social response. By the time telecommunications were shut down, the social tidal wave was already underway.

The Internet has turned leadership upside down by removing the monopoly over communications from the hands of those in positions of formal authority and by enabling radically new forms of collective action and complex social coordination.

Gladwell cited Mao's famous quip that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. But rioters in Tunisia and Egypt are prevailing without shooting a single bullet. In the 21st century, power will spring from the power of an idea.

Return to all panelist responses

By Angel Cabrera

 |  February 7, 2011; 4:01 PM ET
Category:  Pop culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Leading while everyone's watching | Next: Making social media stick


Please report offensive comments below.

Yes, while the barrel of the gun was not present in the peaceful riots in Egypt, the usage of social media was not the instigator of the riots. In a biology analogy, the enzyme only catalyzes the substrate, and in this case, facebook catalyzed the concerted rebellion in Egypt, but it was not the rebellion itself. Riots, peaceful or not, will continue on into the digital era just as they have done from the likes of the civil rights movement to Native American territorial disputes. The truth is, the only thing significant about social media network precense, is that its a new way to do an old idea.

Posted by: alexyoung | February 12, 2011 3:00 PM
Report Offensive Comment

This new era of technology equates to an unprecedented state of affairs, in which every action or decision made has a heavier and more resounding impact than before in the past. Today’s new generation must delicately handle and manage the wielding of social media and the realms that it extends to. With access to an endless source of information and people-connecting tools, people have the power to “move mountains”, or in the case of the group in Egypt, start an effectively threatening revolution to establish justice in a corrupt, autocratic government. However, with such easy access, the quality of communication through social media could be at stake, depending on what means are taken. This type of power could transfer to leadership if properly communicated and implemented. It is the responsibility of the people to wisely utilize the information made available. Another interesting point made is that with this type of power, leadership is challenged. The masses now have the ability to become informed and share opinions and form their own judgments, rather than being content with the status quo. Social media has unquestionably changed the way leadership works. There are positive and negative attributes of this new era. Whether or not, it is for the better or worse, it is clear that social media is now a concrete facet in people’s live and there is no turning back.

Posted by: sallyannzhou | February 11, 2011 4:35 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The addition of the internet adds a whole new dynamic to the relationship between the leader and the follower under these circumstances. A lightning fast medium for communication, any organization can use the internet to communicate to members with more efficiency than ever before. Formerly, people would have to speak over the phone or meet directly to assemble into groups for protest. These days, however, it is as easy as the click of a button to send messages to hundreds, even thousands of people. I agree that the structure of the relationship between leader and follower has changed as a result of the influx of technology and increased communication capability in that the leaders no longer have complete control over the communication of ideas and information. Now it is the responsibility of the leader to listen carefully for what constituencies have to say through social media in order to win their favor and lead without coercion.

Posted by: dorianhicks | February 11, 2011 2:57 PM
Report Offensive Comment

It is too soon to tell how the use of online social media in Egypt's protests has changed our perceptions of leadership in the Internet age. The situation only began a few weeks ago and is still ongoing. However, other recent events in history (those slightly more removed from the present to allow for more effective judgment), such as the Twitter Revolution in Iran, have made a difference. The Internet played in integral part in the story two summers ago when thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest the results of their presidential elections. Masses of people effectively organized rallies and raised world awareness of the situation by posting updates on their Twitter accounts, showing that ordinary people can use the Internet to their advantage and have a role in the outcome.

Posted by: kaylaopall | February 11, 2011 2:50 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The internet facilitates the primary process in the evolution of the humans from their current intellectual dark ages, evidenced by acquiescing to institutional (government) leaders managing institutional POWER, often under the ruse of "law", to the age of reasoning administered by secretarial personnel doing the boring work of matching any remnant individual damaging actions, to the related common law and its process, leaving the vast majority of society functioning on mutually beneficial reasoning.

That primary process is dissemination of knowledge, without limits, for each other mind's synthesis with other unlimited knowledge.

Power is created by keeping people ignorant. Reasoning is created by learning knowledge.

The internet is a knowledge device. And that will advance the humans, not any personality using the internet for their popularity.

Respectfully, DougBuchanan.com

Posted by: DougBuchananDotCom | February 9, 2011 9:03 PM
Report Offensive Comment

I agree that the Internet has changed the dynamics of leadership and possibly turned it upside down. As Angel alluded to, the Internet, in terms of leadership and communication, has allowed power to flow into the hands of many instead of being concentrated merely within the hands of a few. Specifically, this is because, as is exmplified by the "political amateurs" in Egypt, anyone who has access to the Internet can possibly become the leader of an event or movement (in the case of Egypt a protest movement)and become a disseminator of information for the entire world to view. The command one has over communication and the access one has to large numbers of people to tap into and view that information he/she is communicating are powerful abilities. The interesting thing is that in today's Internet age numerous people in countries all over the world contain those powerful abilities via their webcams and keyboards. Thus, while in the past it may have taken much more effort and personal connections to communicate with people and, in turn, become a leader, today becoming a leader of events, movements, or social agendas can be as accessible as the click of a mouse. This illustrates that in today's Internet age a huge component of leadership involves having an active and dominant virtual presence.

Posted by: toribennette | February 7, 2011 5:40 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Post a Comment

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company