I don’t get to write these articles very often in these days of retirement, so when I do , its useful to have had a recent thought provoking experience to hand which has given me cause for thought.
Having just returned from a gruelling train journey across Vietnam and Cambodia, I am still trying to piece together exactly what did happen in Cambodia during the 70s – which for me is within relatively recent memory. It throws up a number of leadership and followership conundrums which are almost inconceivable to us in the shelter of our “civilised” western lives. How a country which is seemingly full of courteous, friendly, peace loving people could be led to inflict the level of cruelty and violence on their own people at the level they did, is beyond comprehension.
There are a few obvious political undercurrents, particularly the role of powerful nations in proxy foreign wars which are still alive and well in our current society.
However, at a more human level the sinister role of leadership plays a bigger role and there are a few clear factors at play.
Fear and aggression. When fear is established in a system, it soon becomes the norm and those in power find they can maintain control most easily by the imposition of aggression and the generation of more fear. Nobody dares to question or resist for fear of retribution.
Desperation and hope. When people are desperate, unhappy, impoverished or on a lesser level, simply disillusioned, it’s easy to give them hope. This encourages them to listen, to follow and take action, often in a more extreme way than would have been the case under normal circumstances. More power to the leaders.
False news and naivety. If people have a lack of true insight and understanding, it’s all too easy to feed them a lie and tell them what they want to hear rather then what they need to hear. The communication of information within a system is perhaps the most powerful tool of control available and can be the most destructive in a toxic system.
These 3 dangerous bedfellows all played a significant role in the dominance of the Khmer Rouge and their devastating effect on the nation of Kampuchea. In historical example, we see it in its most extreme form, my question is how often do we see these 3 toxic forces in play in modern organisations?
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
As leaders we need to be constantly vigilant and put genuine effort into ensuring that power gifted by leadership follows a “true North” wherever that may be for the organisation.