Problem Created by Leader or Lesson from Russian History

The first American to win the Nobel Prize was Theodore Roosevelt. He was awarded this prestigious prize in 1906 for his instrumental participation in the diplomatic negotiations that preceded the peace Treaty of Portsmouth after one of the most pitiful Russian wars — the one against Japan in 1904-05.

The problem at the core of that Russo-Japanese War was described by Leo Tolstoy in his denunciation of the war entitled “Bethink Yourselves!” and published in 1904 in the London Times. In essence, Tolstoy claimed that Tsar Nicholas II had no right to waste people’s lives for his own ambitions. An unprecedented step of public condemnation of the country’s ruler took place, and the old and wise writer was right. There is a lesson we as managers can learn from this as well.

In my yesterday’s post I wrote about the misunderstanding of the roots of resistance to change. There is more to add to that. In The NTL Handbook of Organization Development and Change (2006) Jones & Brazzel critique Jellison’s (1993) work on overcoming resistance to change, outlining the two-fold problem with all classic approaches to overcoming resistance. First of all, these approaches “never demand that the change agent think about he or she might be creating opposition,” and secondly, the classic approaches seldomly demand “that the change agent be influenced by those he or she is attempting to influence.” Now, think about all those manifestations of the stubborn top-down management approach of affiliate managers that send their affiliates termination e-mails for lack of activity, or threats of termination demanding immediate results of those who, by definition, are free marketers. I’m sure you get the point.

There are situations when the leader is the one that must change first for the bigger change to happen. Nicholas II hadn’t had the time to rethink and learn from this. The waves of the workers’ revolts, followed by the soldiers’ and peasants’ revolts coupled with the economic desparities resulted in the red tsunami that changed the history of Russia forever. Affiliate managers that refuse to be positively “influenced by those [they are] attempting to influence,” becoming open to the fact that they may be the ones “creating opposition,” learn the lesson the hard way too. Their affiliate programs are effected by much less visible tsunamis yet just as destructive to their marketing as the Soviet Revolution was for the last Russian Tsar and the country as a whole. We can choose to learn from history and the mistakes of others, or we can carry on making our own. The decision is ours.

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