The world has watched as Egyptian people have peacefully and courageously overthrown their perceived dictator.
Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian President for more than 30 years, finally stepped down after several attempts to hold on to his power. As much as we like to shake our head at him and tsk tsk about ego and losing touch with reality, there are lessons in his behavior for all leaders of any organization.
1. You don’t know as much about your people as you think you do.
Sure, you might fancy yourself as in touch and connected, but if your team has any more than about 3, you’re probably not. Your people are most likely agreeing when they shouldn’t and looking for other options when you’re not looking. Remember that and give them some space to achieve – and fail.
2. It’s not them, it’s you.
Mubarak stubbornly and remarkably held on to his position and power even when the battle cry of “Out Mubarak!” was heard around the world. He fired his staff, essentially, and thought that would do the trick. His ego and self-deception made him so out of touch he assumed the rebellion and the world would pat him on the back for doing so and move on. Self-deception is a well-studied angle of leadership, as highlighted in the book Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box. But we leaders tend to think OTHERS do that, but not us. The deception continues, and the enemy is us.
3. Sometimes a job well done means handing over the reins to someone else.
I’m forever inspired by America’s founding framers. George Washington, in an act of heroic discipline and forethought, refused a third term as President. This set the stage for our rare and significant peaceful transfers of power. He understood his job was well done, but it was DONE. New ideas, new people, new insights were needed. Mubarek was so unaware he even made that odd speech last week when he essentially did everything BUT resign. It was over, but he refused to accept it.
I want to mention here that I in no way want to trivialize the amazing events happening in Egypt and now other parts of the world. What happened over these last few weeks is nothing short of historic and inspiring.
As leaders, none of us are too far away from this level of self-deception. And with this type of self-deception comes all sorts of issues – employees become disengaged or – worse – hostile, customers leave, your organization suffers. So let’s let Mubarak serve as a cautionary tale, and take a hard look in the mirror.