There are millions of Hosni Mubaraks.Most lead family businesses, not nations.
Mubarak ruled over 80 million people, while these business founders may preside over dozens, hundreds, or even thousands.
Collectively, though, they may hurt as many millions as Mubarak did – and in many of the same ways. Consider the similarities:
Patriarchy. Most family businesses were started by men who expected and received unquestioned family respect and support – often, in strong patriarchal cultures that demanded nothing less.
Mubarak’s condescending leadership style was clearly reinforced by the patriarchal reverence widespread in the traditional Arab world. While patriarchal cultures vary in intensity, some level of patriarchal deference is common virtually everywhere – as are the older male company founders who still demand it.
Nepotism. Mubarak attempted to install his son as successor. Most family business founders try to do the same, hiring sons, daughters, or other relatives as “heir apparent.” But even the faintest hint of “entitlement” can be disastrous. Such individuals must work hard, be humble, learn from others, and earn respect. These abilities are rare.
Of course, even if Mubarak’s son Gamal had done everything right, after 30 years of his father’s rule, he had no chance to gain genuine respect from Egypt’s leaders and citizens. And attempts to maintain some control through other cronies can be equally devastating to the business.
Theft. Mubarak stole billions of dollars. Similarly, business founders often pull fortunes from their companies to enrich themselves, their families, and their offspring. When that money is no longer available to the business, its prospects suffer.
It’s much worse, of course, when the withdrawals occur via “creative accounting,” hidden from executives and family members. Over time, the outright theft becomes known and reviled throughout both company and family, sowing dissension and damaging morale.
Denial. Mubarak required 18 days of mass protest and an army ultimatum to leave. Like him, most founders stay on years or decades too long – out of pride, and because they know no other job, lifestyle, or passion.
It’s easy for them to convince themselves that they’re irreplaceable – to the business, and even to family harmony. When voices of criticism – however constructive – arise from the successor generation, they are often marginalized, fired, and/or ostracized.
Fortunately, the old patriarchs are now in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. One way or another, they’ll soon be gone. A new generation of more progressive (and increasingly female), educated, and open-minded family members is finally taking over leadership.
Let’s pray Egypt’s new leaders will share these traits. Countries and businesses are alike in yet one more way. When they are governed in a more open and democratic way – where everyone has a stake in success and the opportunity to build it – citizens, employees, and families can all live happier, healthier lives.
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