Precarious Situations: Watch for Common Leadership

When the dust eventually settles, we will be able to look back upon the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere, and identify people who stepped up to assume a leadership position to drive positive change in those countries.
It will be interesting to learn whether those people were formal leaders with recognized station and power (say, opposition party leaders), or whether they are common people of passionate values who reached a breaking point where their consciences no longer allowed them to remain silent on the sidelines. I suspect it will be the latter, in the case of Egypt, and in Tunisia the ‘leader’ was the frustrated vendor who set fire to himself in protest against an oppresive regime.
It is usually such precarious situations, crises, or threats to survival that force regular folk into action to demand and force better conditions. The Roman Cincinnatus, twice left his simple farm and assumed the dictatorship of Rome in order to protect her from invaders, then relinquished complete power both times, to return to his farming.
I’m curious to learn who were the instigators of the Tahrir Square gathering, and the Tunisia uprising. In both cases, someone in authority in the military must have a least tolerated if not supported the cause, but it appears that regular citizens orchestrated the gatherings and protests, and if this is the case, there is an important leadership lesson to be learned from it.
The lesson is that anyone can be a leader under the right circumstances, and when we have the courage to step up, the benefits for all can be remarkable. One news reel showed an Egyptian man carrying a folded white cloth in Tahrir Square. He told the reporter “this is my cultural burial cloth; I am leaving this square either a free man, or in this cloth.” Perhaps the Tunisian vendor hoped that the sacrifice of his own life would embolden his countrymen; spark them into action. Powerful stuff!
Whoever did instigate these rallies also knew (intuitively or cognitively) the basic tenets of leadership: they were closely attuned to public sentiment (shared values), knew clearly what the people wanted, had credibility (look how many showed up in the streets), and inspired the crowds to call for the same action (in Egypt and Tunisia, for the current governments and leader to step down). They also knew and leveraged the power of modern communications tools (Facebook, Twitter) to organize people. And for those common leaders, it is some feat to have the courage to risk (or give) their lives for these noble causes.
These stories are not over: Tunisia has forced an interim unity government, more representative of the people, that will rule until new elections will be held mid-year. In Egypt, Mubarak has stated he will step down eventually, and dialogue has begun with all factions of the people, in an effort to find a solution that will end the protests. But the exercise of common leadership that we have witnessed is both extraordinary and encouraging. While it is still possible that old regimes will regain control, or that new, equally nefarious people will take over, it somehow seems that democracy of some sort will take root. If it does, that part of the world will radically change for the better.
And if it does, we would do well to study the stories of the common people who saw the need for strong leadership and stepped up to accept the challenge of driving positive change. We should then teach those lessons to our colleagues, our employees, our politicians and especially, to our children.

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