In Egypt's Leaderless Revolution, A Lesson for Business Leaders

The recent ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has been dubbed a “leaderless revolution.” In Jordan, Bahrain, and elsewhere in the Arab world, similar “leaderless” protests are leading to regime changes or reform.

In America, well-established businesses plunge toward collapse with well-compensated decision-makers at the helm, and we appear ignorant or powerless while witnessing the corruption, decadence and despair? So, how is it possible that in Egypt people oppressed by political dictatorship can hold a leaderless revolution – and achieve monumental historic change?

The difference, in my view, is the priority for personal honor.

The people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and the rest are driven not by politics, greed, or power. They’re concerned principally with human rights, dignity, and justice. They garner support because their protests focus not on the aspirations of a few, but on the inherent rights of all. The organizers of Egypt’s protest – such that there were organizers – eschewed the spotlight and focused on the objective: Liberty.

In my post about the four dimensions of extraordinary leadership, I discuss the importance of worthy goals and values. Even the Harvard Business School has recognized business school value systems are out of whack. A revolution is underway – and deeply needed. True, a business revolution lacks the geopolitical significance of events in the Middle East. But the shift in business culture now afoot is just as human, just as historic, and just as vital to global stability.

Look within your organization. What motivates your people? What drives them? Is it simply a paycheck? The risk of unresolved indebtedness? Or something greater? Does your business have, at its core, values that inspire every stakeholder – uniting associates, customers, suppliers and community? If you were gone tomorrow – if your people were leaderless – would they continue the revolution? Or would they pack up and go home?

Successful companies aren’t successful because of commanding figureheads, shrewd go-to-market models, or bold tactics. They’re successful because they harness the generative energy of their stakeholders. Such companies stand for something intrinsic and worthy, and people are proud to stand with them.

How does honor relate to leadership?  For what principles do you stand?