I’m looking for the Mohamed Bouazizi in my world. . . and in yours.
Mind you, this is scary leadership stuff.
Bouazizi was angry. He was a street vegetable vendor. A policewoman fined him and took his stuff; she was unsatisfied with the fine he paid, and so her assistants allegedly attacked him. He tried to complain to authorities. They wouldn’t see him. Furious and desperate, he doused himself in fuel and set himself ablaze. And, as many have written: the whole Middle East went up in flames as a result of his actions on December 17, 2010. Millions of people for millions of hours hopelessly accepted millions of abuses. Mohamed said: No more. In the hospital, he survived his self-immolation for a couple weeks, and within a couple more weeks, the 23-year ruler of Tunisia was gone. Thanks to Mohamed.
Mohamed is an extreme figure in an extreme time. Yet he stands as an example of how we can cease to listen to the voices at the margin. We may say they’re crazy – self-immolation is surely extreme – but they get really crazy, when they feel no one is listening. There are a lot of cries for attention these days. Some may seem sensible. Others totally crazy: A pastor lights a Quran on fire; enraged parents and the GLBT community say bullying is not normal child’s play; the Tea Party folks feel they’ve been taxed without really being heard and represented; and every few months it seems another boy-next-door shoots up teachers and classmates in school. As I said: some are crazy, some speak to the crazies running the asylum. The commonality lies in the need to hear the voices at the edges.
One of the worst things you can EVER do when you’re leading is to stop listening. And you can’t wait for them to set themselves on fire. Who’s on the margins – or feels they are – in your world? Who can’t get heard? Who’s getting bullied? Who feels invisible? Who’s withdrawn?
As leaders of human institutions, we’ll always fall short. It’s when we pretend that we’ve got it right and everyone else just needs to suck it up and move along that we get in trouble. And it’s then that we could use a little Mohamed Abouazizi to speak truth to our power. You can’t sit in your office or behind your desk and be complacent if you’re going to
Lead with your best self.