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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

What Mubarak ignored at his peril

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?

Watching events unfold in Egypt reminds me that the country's ruling class would have benefited greatly from reading American futurist Bob Johansen's groundbreaking book Leaders Make the Future when it published two years ago. In it, Johansen and his colleagues at the Institute for the Future pinpointed ten trends that leaders of any organization or nation ignore at their peril. The crisis in Egypt highlights two of them in particular.

First, Johansen foresaw the rising influence of "smart mob organizing," through which social networks are used creatively and purposely to fuel change. We've recently seen the value of Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and other social media vehicles in growing America's Tea Party and fomenting revolution in Tunisia. Now, the same tools are proving to be powerful change agents in Egypt. Efforts by the Egyptian government to crack down on them highlighted its hostility toward another emerging trend named by Johansen: quiet transparency.

To quote Johansen on leading in a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world: "Quiet transparency in leadership begins with humility. ...leaders will definitely have to give up some control. They need to decide what they can and want to manage, since they cannot directly supervise everything. Leadership control is something of an illusion."

The protesting Egyptian citizens want to be recognized, respected and valued by their leaders. Egypt's leaders, however, have fought tooth and nail to maintain total control, even up to this very moment--and that has indicated a lack of foresight and judgment, and a misplaced sense of urgency. The complexity in our world demands more capable leadership that creates direction, alignment and commitment, which means we need interdependent leaders at all levels of governments and organizations.

Increasingly, leaders today can accomplish little or nothing without trust from their followers. Being open and authentic, maintaining an attitude of servant leadership, builds that trust. Efforts to dissemble or manipulate tear it down. Our approach to leadership, like eating or exercise, is a habit developed over years. Turning around self-defeating practices can be done over time with a lot of effort. But the cumulative effect of those habits makes it extremely difficult for an entrenched leader to move a country or company in a different direction on a dime. Turning around GM required a fresh approach and new leaders. It's hard to see how the case of Egypt, where a giant, explosive divide exists between the wealthy elite and the newly energized masses, will be different.

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By John R. Ryan

 |  February 1, 2011; 10:46 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Four obstacles for Mubarak | Next: The future for Egypt could look grim

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Trust is becoming more and more essential in today's world. The increase in transparency that has come along with technological advances has caused today's leaders to become more concerned with their public image than ever before. I agree completely that the main problem facing Mubarak currently is the problem of trust. Although he has held power for decades, his failure to remain accountable to his people for all these years is finally coming back to haunt him. The current uprising in Egypt should not come as a surprise, but instead should serve as a reminder that leadership hinges on the trust and support of good followers.

However, although I believe it may be too late for Mubarak in Egypt, I strongly believe in the power of a leader to change his ways. Granted, a certain leadership style is necessary in order to adapt to new situations, a style that I believe Mubarak is lacking. Although new leaders often come into power during times of transition, I believe that a leader who is willing to acknowledge his failures will begin to make progress and restore trust with the people of his country. Sometimes admitting failure and being open to change is precisely what is needed. Sadly, very few of today's leaders are willing to compromise in order to enact change.

Posted by: paulgabraham | February 4, 2011 12:49 PM
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While it is plausible that a firmly entrenched leader could in fact chart a new, perhaps even effective course for their country, I can't imagine the citizens of that nation allowing the sort of trust and respect that is necessary to successfully implement any sort of change. Once a leader oversteps his authority to the point that the people see it necessary to revolt, as is the case in Egypt, a situation of even hesitant forgiveness or cautious retreat by the people in response to some sort of statement by the leader suggesting that he/she is willing to change is highly unlikely. In the particular case of President Mubarak in Egypt, the oppression and indifference he has shown over the past 30 years towards a large portion of his citizens has been so prevalent that it significantly outweighs any of the credit he deserves for striving for relative peace at various times during his tenure as President. For this, President Mubarak has condemned his image as the head of state in Egypt to a symbol of oppression of the lower classes and the suffering that they have endured as a result. President Mubarak must step aside and allow new leadership in Egypt in order for order to be restored among the people and progress to be made towards undoing many of the wrongs committed by President Mubarak.

Posted by: DavidSims92 | February 4, 2011 12:05 AM
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While it is plausible that a firmly entrenched leader could in fact chart a new, perhaps even effective course for their country, I can't imagine the citizens of that nation allowing the sort of trust and respect that is necessary to successfully implement any sort of change. Once a leader oversteps his authority to the point that the people see it necessary to revolt, as is the case in Egypt, a situation of even hesitant forgiveness or cautious retreat by the people in response to some sort of statement by the leader suggesting that he/she is willing to change is highly unlikely. In the particular case of President Mubarak in Egypt, the oppression and indifference he has shown over the past 30 years towards a large portion of his citizens has been so prevalent that it significantly outweighs any of the credit he deserves for striving for relative peace at various times during his tenure as President. For this, President Mubarak has condemned his image as the head of state in Egypt to a symbol of oppression of the lower classes and the suffering that they have endured as a result. President Mubarak must step aside and allow new leadership in Egypt in order for order to be restored among the people and progress to be made towards undoing many of the wrongs committed by President Mubarak.

Posted by: DavidSims92 | February 4, 2011 12:04 AM
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