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Marshall Goldsmith
Executive Coach/Author

Marshall Goldsmith

Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, speaker, coach and best-selling author. His most recent book is Mojo.

There's no good strategy

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?

There is no good strategy for holding onto power without harming the country. If you are this 'autocratic leader', most people believe that YOU (by staying in power) are harming the country now. The only question for such a leader is how much more do you value yourself and your hold on power than you value the country that you are supposed to be leading?

By Marshall Goldsmith

 |  February 22, 2011; 10:32 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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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!

e.g.,
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)


There's always a good strategy to employ judeo-christian white supremacist "way of life" upon all 'lesser' ethnic groups and nearly extinct tribes - smile. lol

Posted by: stephendavid2002 | February 27, 2011 6:41 AM
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Take the billions in assets - before they are frozen by other countries - and run to Saudi Arabia. That country seems very friendly to those who have been autocrats, dictators, heads of mercenary groups (Prince of Blackwater).

Cynical? Sure - but any dictator or autocrat who is facing what Gaddafi, Mubarak and others face would be smart to run with the money while they have that chance.

Posted by: Utahreb | February 26, 2011 8:16 AM
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The best strategy is to try and compromise with the protesters. As an autocratic leader this will obviously be a new way of operating, but it is the most logical option. Machiavelli once wrote in the Prince, it is better for a leader to be feared then loved, but being hated is something a leader should strive to avoid. In this situation concessions of ones Autocratic rule need to be conceded as to alleviate some of the hatred from one's people. But if concessions cannot be made force is one's only option. Excessive force should not be used, but if a leader so wishes to remain in power (though it may be short-lived) he must command respect by drawing on fear. Once this is done, a leader must fix the underlying problem and become a better leader for their country. If they cannot or do not wish to do so, the best option for the country is for said leader to relinquish their power to someone who will use this power in a positive social capacity for one's people and country.

Posted by: NajiMcFarlane | February 25, 2011 3:52 AM
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I agree that for the autocratic leaders in the Middle East who are facing protests, there is no best way to hold on to power without harming their respective countries. In the cases of Egypt and Libya, holding on to power and not harming the country are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, these leaders are in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their decisions to either put down the protests or to allow them to continue. With the rise of the internet and news broadcasts, leaders' efforts to violently put down protests will be quickly condemned by the international scene. Leaders who go this route will eventually be forced out of their respective positions of authority. It would, therefore, be better to give in to the demands of the protesters even if it means losing power. The Middle Eastern leaders facing protests will eventually lose their power no matter what route they choose and their people will remember them more favorably if they lose their power by giving in to the demands of the masses.

Posted by: PlacidoAGomez | February 25, 2011 1:39 AM
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I agree whole-heartedly there there is no correct strategy to keep power when you have lost the approval of the masses, as someone like Mubarak has learned and now Gadhafi in Libya is learning. The masses will always outnumber a regime's military, and if the masses are motivated enough and led by strong enough leaders, the current ruler will either win and be hated by all, or lose and become disgraced. The only correct action is to step down graciously, to quit while you're ahead, so that you may not just spare what is left of your reputation and power, but to also spare the lives of your people and the stability of your country. For an autocratic leader this is not an ideal situation, but if they care more for their country than for themselves it is the correct decision to make.

Posted by: DavidBenavides | February 24, 2011 10:57 PM
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I agree that there is no possible way for Mubarak to handle this situation effectively. His greatest mistake is not anything that he has done within the past year alone, but rather the actions of the past few decades. The only way to effectively deal with the situation is to prevent it from escalating too far. Mubarak should have recognized that there was tension in Egypt months before. If he had done so he would have been able to reform his ways and reconcile with his people. However, I believe that it is characteristic of leaders such as Mubarak to control with an iron fist until signs of tension rise to the surface, in which case it is far too late.

Posted by: paulgabraham | February 24, 2011 9:01 PM
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Thank you, Mr Goldsmith for answering the question.I agree with you that there is no good way to hold on to power. If you use force, the people hate you more, and the international community wag their heads. If you allow the protests to go on, no matter what type of reform you promise, the people will most likely not be satisfied and not back down, further crippling the country because they know the momentum is on their side. And if you step down, there will be an enormous power vacuum, which your country may not be able to deal with. There really is nothing a leader can do at this point but to hope for the best.

Posted by: ZechariahLau | February 24, 2011 8:41 PM
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If protests are rampant throughout your country, there clearly is a major issue at hand. While I agree there is no good strategy to relieving the problem, as a leader you still have to make a decision on what unfortunate strategy you will take. When both of your choices most likely result in your time of power coming to a close, clearly the problem has escalated to nearly a point of no return. I’m a firm believer in hope, however. If the majority of the population is protesting, you have to let them. Letting people peacefully protest is the only way for a leader to gain back legitimate power. If as a leader you militarily shut down the protests, your citizens will never voluntarily support you again, thus forever harming your country.
There is no “best” strategy for holding onto power without harming the country. But the only reasonable strategy is to let the protesters protest and try to adhere to their wishes.

Posted by: andieobermeyer | February 24, 2011 11:29 AM
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There really isn't a good strategy to remain in power... I mean, it's the difference between treating Stage 1 cancer and Stage 4 cancer... These countries all fall in the Stage 4 category... Once people have had enough there's no appeasing them with money or jobs... You're going one way or another...

The best thing to do for yourself and your country, however, is step down when it comes apparent that the forces against you are sufficiently strong enough (i.e. 50,000 people in the streets) and ask the U.N. to come in to set up elections...

In other words, cut your losses...

Posted by: bobnpvine | February 23, 2011 8:30 AM
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