Delusion of grandeur in being a leader

  • Business
  • Thursday, 10 Apr 2003

By Dr Ong Hean-Tatt

EVERY one would love to be the leader. The leader enjoys respect and status, besides getting the attractive physical or financial remuneration, especially in the business corporate world. 

In war, a general first receives commands from the sovereign, then assembles and concentrates the troops. Sun Tzu 8:1 

Many groups of animals have leaders. In a pack of lions, there would be a majestic lion as the leader. His pack would mostly comprise lionesses that will do the actual hunting while the majestic lion looks on and waits to be served. 

However, the lion is not a lazy animal served by his females. The lion guides and protects the pack. It is mutual-benefit relationship.  

The leader must not only be strong, but his strength must be useful to the group. But, some leaders have delusions about their status and ability and become the cause of the downfall of their organisations. 

In 1940-1941, Hilter had launched Barbarossa, the German grand deception against the Soviet Union. Armed units were moved to near the border of Russia under the pretext of an exercise for the invasion of Britain. Stalin swallowed the ruse. Russian intelligence had earlier told Stalin that Hitler had moved the bulk of his army within striking distance of the Soviet frontier. Stalin refused to consider the possibility of a German attack and explained away all warnings. 

There was the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact of 1939. Stalin thought that Germany would not risk a two-front war by opening an attack on Russia. Stalin believed that Hitler would deliver an ultimatum before any attack. Hitler attacked without any ultimatum. On the morning of June 22, 1941, Stalin’s illusion of safety was shattered when the Nazi blitzkrieg swept into Russia. 

By insisting on the desires of his own heart and the patterns he wanted to find, he allowed Hitler to cheat him. Stalin, so deceitful and mistrustful of people, became one of the century’s biggest dupes. In the end, the blundering Stalin had to accept the assistance of the brilliant General Zhukov, who, with General Vasilevskiy, engineered a series of counter-moves that led to the German defeat in the winter of 1942 and spring of 1943. Hilter lost the better parts of two armies and all the territory he had earlier taken. However, Zhukov’s brilliant success was his death warrant. The jealous Stalin fabricated evidence to charge Zhukov for treason and had Zhukov executed. 

During the 1940s and early 1950s Stalin, who reserved for himself the role of chief military and political strategist in the Soviet Union, did not permit discussion on the topic of surprise and deception. 

His complete control of the Soviet military theory often inhibited debates among military theoreticians on the understanding and application of stratagem. Stalin died in 1953. He left behind a mediocre leadership who could not prevent the serious economic problems which eventually broke up the short-lived Soviet Union. 

There was a time when condominiums seemed to be “the thing” in housing.  

Developers delighted in the prospect, for condos offered a way to realise high profits from high cost land. But the signs were already there that the condo market was becoming soft. 

At a main board corporation, the independent marketing consultant advised against building so many condo units. Instead he advocated going for terrace units, whose profit margins may be lower but would have more demand. 

The technical directors of this corporation rejected the consultant’s analysis. Wanting so much the high profits envisaged with selling condos, they claimed they had better marketing information that such units would be in high demand. They gave the consultant a blistering attack.  

After that, the rest of the planning committee went along with the directors' wishes. However, the condo market was indeed soft. 

This corporation had a wide range of interests. But everything it tried to do did not work as well as it hoped for. Eventually, this high-flying corporation collapsed, victim of the kind of faulty deluded aspirations which marred the analytical thinking of its leaders. 

Modern business corporations should learn well the tragic lessons: deluded leaders seldom seek or respect expert advice. Delusion in leadership leads to alienation from capable people, and the organisation will be short-lived. 

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