The varying shades of Leadership

Written on April 5, 2008 by DeansTalk in International Relations

Santiagoie www.SantiagoIniguez.com, Dean of IE Business School

Unfortunately, the word “leader” does not differentiate between evil and good people: Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, Hitler and Martin Luther King were all leaders. Next to some chilling examples of leaders, who in their thirst for power relied on terror, there is a risk that some misdemeanours perpetuated by recent business figures go unnoticed and unheeded especially by business school educators. Next to the undoubted evil in the world it is so easy to be numbed to lesser examples of business corruption which are further down on the scale of the difference between right and wrong. I believe that the integrity upheld by business schools, sometimes with an academic honour principle, is fundamental to acting as a leader and in distinguishing the sometimes fine difference between right and wrong.

I was thinking about this yesterday, while watching a documentary on the life of Sadam Hussein on TV. The programme portrayed Sadam Hussein as someone with a troubled childhood who later became a hired political assassin. It ended relating the machinations he used to ascend to power. I was particularly amazed at the cruelty of one particular chilling episode that happened the day after Sadam became president of Iraq. He summoned all the relevant politicians of the country in a big auditorium and announced that he was going to unmask all those who had plotted against his regime in previous days. The session was recorded by TV cameras. Dozens of people were arrested, without any explicit accusation and the rest of the audience was wondering whether the next one was going to be them. The documentary also shows a smiling Sadam, pleased with his purge. It was one of the most frightening testimonies I have seen.

The saying “It is safer to be feared than to be loved” attributed to Machiavelli, previously mentioned in this blog by Fernando Fontes, is commonly quoted  by some business people as a maxim to be applied at work. I can not disagree more. In fact, we need to elaborate on the concept of leadership in order to weed out of its semantic map all those cases of evil leaders or "control freaks". Alternatively, we could focus more on how to nominate good managers who inspire and influence  people.


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