It is impossible to watch the dramatic events in Egypt without meditating on the lessons for leaders, whether of countries or companies. I would like to share five leadership lessons that stand out and should not be ignored by leaders.
1. The Greater the Control, The Greater the Tendency to Instability
It is a paradox. Mubarak maintained every form of control he could imagine over his opposition and his people. But the corollary to this absolute control is that this creates a closed system, one that failed to process feedback from its environment and this led to the ultimate instability.
This is a “whole-system” problem.† In my previous blog post I present a whole-system model that includes the internal environment, the extended environment and the external environment. Improvement comes from the feedback loops and the process of adaptation from these environments. Mubarak’s internal environment was comprised of his inner circle of trusted associates. His extended environment was the Interior Ministry and Army. The external environment was the mass of Egyptian people.
Companies expect to control, and therefore process feedback, within the internal environment. They see that as their job. In lean manufacturing, the walls between the internal and extended environment (suppliers, partners)† become extremely porous, almost non-existent.
Some time ago I was at the Honda Marysville plant and we then went to visit the Stanley plant that supplies headlight and taillight assemblies to Honda. Deliveries were made every two hours. There were “two hour piles” or inventory. Honda engineers were in the Stanley plant every day! The feedback from one to another was measured in minutes. Although a different legal entity, they acted as one organism. The more rapid the inventory turnover cycle, the more rapid must be the feedback loop, or the more “open” must be the system.
What often sinks companies (and countries!) is the failure to create “porous” walls, high rates of feedback and response to the external environment. The leaders are not reading Facebook!
There is a social law: The more successful, secure or dominant the organism (person, company or country) the higher the wall grows between it and it’s environment. The more dominant a leader like Mubarak, the less he felt a need to listen, respond, or respect those outside of his dominant circle. He wasn’t reading Facebook and didn’t take seriously the calls for reform. It is the illness of arrogance. Arrogance is the greatest enemy of learning and quality. The more arrogant, the less responsive to the external environment. History has proven this over and over again with the downfall of once great companies and countries.
2. Don’t Underestimate the Power Of Self-Organization
Those in power tend to believe that their followers will be lost without their guidance and control. Tahrir Square over the past weeks has been an incredible demonstration of the power of “self-organization.” The protesters entered Tahrir Square with no apparent leader, no organization, and no assigned responsibilities. But, given a common purpose, they organized themselves. They formed organization and took responsibility for checking those who entered the square to assure they weren’t carrying weapons. They organized sanitation. They organized medical services. They organized security and protection within the square. The developed a complex and highly effective system of communication. They were highly self-organized and this organization, done with dignity and restraint, set an example that could not be ignored. They did not elect formal leaders and no one sought to assume the role of leader. They acted with incredible maturity. And, most important, their organization was focused on clear goals and achieved those goals.
The power of self-organization is present in every organization. It is too often dismissed as a chaotic disruption to the formal lines of authority. Those who are “on-the-spot,” whether in a factory, a school, or on the streets, when empowered to solve problems most often have the capacity to self-organize. Social media, or networked intelligence, is an enabler of self-organization. Within companies we need to encourage the power of self-organization rather than fear its disruption.
3. The Worst Speech in the History of the World!
As a student and practitioner of public speaking I have attempted to learn from effective political speeches. No leader should underestimate the potential influence of an effective public presentation. There is much to be learned from Mubarak’s disastrous speech to the nation the night before his final resignation.
The demonstrators had been joyously celebrating what they believed would be his final resignation. They were horribly disappointed. Not only did he not resign, but his speech talked down to his “children” in the most condescending tone. He appeared not to understand that it was families, doctors, lawyers, workers, as well as students who had taken to Tahrir Square to protest his rule. They were tired of being treated and spoken to as if they were his children.
Mubarak’s speech was about his own dignity, his own self-importance. His speech displayed no recognition or empathy for the concerns of his followers. This is when followers cease to follow. Leaders lead by creating a sense of shared purpose, shared values and common vision that can inspire their followers. Leader’s never motivate followers by talking down to them, by expressing their own self-importance. Leaders lead by expressing empathy and creating bonds of unity with their followers. To the degree that you fail at this task, you fail as a leader.
4. Tipping Points Emerge at the Speed of the Internet
The current revolutions in the Middle East are perfect examples of tipping points. Sentiments and habits change at first as small minority views, dismissed and rejected. They slowly gain adherents. And suddenly, they have sufficient momentum to tip over the old order and create a new one.
The Egyptian revolution was in the making for thirty years. But, the power of Facebook, as Google executive Wael Ghonim has explained, enabled fifty to a hundred thousand Egyptians to collaborate instantaneously and form a consensus to action. The power of the Internet has never been demonstrated more clearly.
Every organization survives by its ability to adapt to change in the external environment. The ability to hear, to sense, to respond and adapt to changes taking place, only to be seen on the Internet, will determine your ability to survive the next tipping point in your marketplace.
5. In Purpose there is Unity; In Unity there is Power
For me, the most moving picture of all pictures coming from Tahrir Square was the picture of the mass of Muslims bowed down in daily prayer. But, it wasn’t those in prayer that moved me. Surrounding those bowed in prayer was a circle of men holding arms and facing outward, protecting the worshipers from attack. Who were these defenders? They were Christians! What more can one say?
Never underestimate the power of purpose to unite people in a common pursuit. No single group could have succeeded in this revolution. It was the power to unite diverse people in common purpose that tore down the walls of dictatorial authority. That power is latent in every organization if leaders would only call upon it.
Larry, this is an excellent article and I am grateful for the cogent, concise presentation of fundamental principles. Thank you.
Impressions of this revolution are vivid and many–hued! Your perspective here helps put these impressions in place. And now pray tyrants elsewhere take good lesson & allow for healthy in-put from their (respected) masses. Thanks, Larry!
As I look around the world, I see no leaders, of governments or industry or intellectual or social organizations who understand the paradigm shifts in human thinking and behavior that are taking place right before our eyes. As President Obama said, we rarely have a chance to see history being made.
The military leader in Egypt who said that the Egyptians were not ready for democracy implied that they were ready for autocracy. That general was woefully unaware that humankind as a whole is getting ready for justice. Those who cannot sense that are doomed to err seriously in their thinking and to be thought of as fools.
There is a sequence to the establishment of justice as was demonstrated in the establishment of the Industrial Revolution which, per Adam Smith’s logic, did increase economic wealth by a factor of 60. (Of course much of that wealth was wasted on war and extravagant living by the greedy.)
The first step in the sequence is planting in the human consciousness a spiritual awareness of the possibility of improving the world. That occurred with John Calvin and John Knox. The second step is an intellectual analysis of our human potential. Adam Smith did that brilliantly by intuiting that humans are inherently creative, inventive. Therefore, I hope you, Larry, share our analysis with as many leaders of the planet who will listen.
William Maxwell, Ed.D.
in Tirana, Albania
Larry, Thank you for shearing these thoughts. What you have described here seem to me, to be the nuts and bolts of “Unity”. We as individuals should strive to practice these lessons in our daily lives. Communication and consultation can certainly change the world for the better. Thanks again. ~~~~~~~~ Al
Thank you for a most illuminating and helpful perspective on the Egyptian revolution and on the lessons for organisations and their leaders. The systems perspective is a useful one.
Well said…fantastic thoughts. This made me cry to see the wonders of unity coming from the hearts and souls of well meaning people. I felt proud to see the goodness of humanity uniting together. We must do this everywhere with love, unity and oneness with all people. Let us all unite with purpose of bettering our own societies and communities without waiting for someone else to do this.
Real Solution Works
Thanks, Larry, Great article.
Itís a shock to link leadership with Egypt event, thinking on every social event, and digest the hidden meanings, both your attitude and thought bring me to deep thinking. Your article remind me of a word from my teacher: A leader, is leading value and goal, leading the way he does, not leading people.
Your last photograph was taken by a Reuterís reporter, a young woman, who risked her life taking it to show us a glimpse of hope in the future of Egypt. It is a picture showing that Egyptians can live in peace and unity. It is not about personalities or political parties. It appeals to the ” better angels of our nature *”. Hers is a true leadership. Please credit her for the photograph.
* Abraham Lincoln Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address
Your comparison between dictatorships and capitalism is illuminating. Both want to get most out of the people by giving them the least. I am not sure who you are addressing here the workers who are giving their life day by day to enrich the CEOís and lose benefits and their pensions to the banks. Or the leaders of the fortune five hundred companies so they can apply your principles and get even richer than before. There is a moral question here you are not addressing in your apparently dispassionate and pseudo scientific comparison. Neither capitalism nor dictatorships are neutral. They are flawed systems that can not be fine-tuned. You speak of a feedback loop. Feedback to whom? There has to be a listening ear and a companionate heart to receive the feedback. As far as capitalism is concerned their leaders where richly rewarded by world governments for bringing the world economical system to its knees. In psychology you reward a behavior which you would like to see repeated. Since revolutions are about people, the only lesson dictators can learn from the present upheavals are that their behavior is no longer rewarded. This may incentive for some to change their thinking primarily as self preservation. What you are doing is try to sell your analysis to us as wisdom. But the paradigms of your argument is anchored in the system that need to recognize the moral and spiritual nature of man.
Hoda, This blog post does not compare dictatorship and capitalism. That is an entirely different subject. However, they are also apples and oranges. Dictatorship is a form of governance (vs. democracy); capitalism (vs. socialism or communism) is an economic system that may occur in either a dictatorship or in a democracy.
Also, I am not trying to “sell” my analysis as “wisdom.” My analysis is simply my analysis. This is what one does in personal blogs. It is my opinion or viewpoint and one can take it for what one thinks it is worth. I certainly welcome different points of view. I also recognize that there are many ways one can understand the events in Egypt.
I appreciate your openness to different points of views Larry. I do react to relativistic life coaching methodologies which wants to make you the best you can be. Except if you are a country dictator or a bank director you become more adept at exploiting others. When the president of the USA seems powerless to bring the CEO’s of the banks to book, after the greed induced crash, you may well ask who is running the world. I happen to think that the above directors are currently world dictators, and for you to make a dictionary distinction between them is an arbitrary act which ignores the sophisticated interconnections between political power and financial influence. Never the less I hank you for fomenting a very important discussion.
Very interesting Larry.
I look forward to the continuation of this thread as Egypt continues its transition into a new nation.
I will be interesting to see if the “Facebook” revolution will continue to be a positive contribution to a new order in Egypt or will momentum drive social fractilization. For now the Egyptian Army is providing some order.
May unity of purpose prevail.
Thank you Larry for a very thought provoking analysis of the events that occurred in Tahrir Square in Egypt. I can’t help but think about the essence of the concepts you have shared as being applicable to the grassroots work of Baha’i clusters as they practice the art of achieving an “outward-looking orientation” that attracts members of the larger community into the community-building core activities. I see a caution, in your analysis, for us as a community of Baha’is (internal)to be so careful avoiding condescending, prejudicial and judgmental attitudes as we work to engage the larger community which could be the “external” group. We even have the “extended” group which would be the institutes, the Councils, the Auxiliary Boards who are training, guiding and assisting the clusters.
Some may disagree or choose to slant it differently, but as we struggle with the learnings of reaching and attracting neighbors, friends and co-workers, attention to the “feedback loop” is an important piece of our endeavors, not just from among ourselves, other clusters, or the institutes, councils and Auxiliary Boards, but also from the very group we want to attract.
In this context, I will be reading, re-reading and thinking deeply about your comments and they ways these points can be internalized to aid the community-building process.
Thank you so much for your sharing.
Dear Hoda: Let me put it this way, through an example: To teach running a successful organization of thieves i.e. bankers, one has to teach consultation. To be successful in that endeavor one has to teach or share the spiritual principles of honesty, humility etc. this is as clear as day light. This blog was not meant for that purpose and we cannot judge Larry’s intentions.