Is There an Invisible Leader in You? | Examples from the Egyptian Protesters

Leadership is first about caring. That’s what the good leaders do. They care about us, the customers, the product, our community, and doing the right thing. 

Leadership is also about power, particularly the power to influence and create change. When leaders use power in an uncaring, self-serving way, we’re put off. 

Power is a byproduct of leadership.  

That’s because when we lead effectively, people follow. The more followers the greater our influence, impact, and leverage. Willing followers entrust their leaders with the power to do right things. 

A follower’s role, however, can change in a split second. 

Especially when crisis hits 

What do you do? Every day company crises are in the news:   

  • A building collapses from tons of snow on its roof
  • A disgruntled employee shoots his coworkers
  • The computer system crashes, cutting the company off from customers 

This is when rank and file employees rush forward to take charge. They assess the problem, organize a fix, lead people out of harms way, and mobilize resources.

It’s not the “big wigs” that do this. They’re likely in another building or simply too far removed from the situation to jump into the fray. This is when the “invisible leaders” show up. 

The origin of invisible leaders 

Situational, frontline leaders are everywhere. We’re focused on them now, in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Egypt, where peaceful anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.   

This protest is considered a leaderless movement that came together through electronic communication. 

What we’re aware of but don’t see are invisible leaders who operate within the throngs of protesters.  Whoever they are, these everyday, caring leaders have stepped up to organize: 

  • Medically trained people to set up treatment units for the injured
  • Groups of people to form security check points to make sure no one comes into the square with a bomb
  • A communications office to keep protesters informed 

Then there were the ad hoc efforts from invisible leaders like: 

  • Butchers in Cairo who sell meat on credit until citizens can get back to work
  • Grocers who’ve slashed prices to help their customers pay for food and even delivered staples to those too afraid to leave their homes   

Other amazing things happened. Helen Kennedy from the Daily News (February 7, 2011) reported: 

“On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.

 Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.”

Some caring invisible leader(s) organized that initiative.

Then there’s Wael Ghonim, a reluctant leader within the protest, made invisible for a while. As Joshua Norman writes in his NY Daily News article, Ghonim “was Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa when he was secretly taken by police and held in detention just after protests began.”

According to Norman, “While no official reason for his 12-day detention was given, Ghonim has admitted to being the administrator of the Facebook page ‘We Are All Khaled Said,’ dedicated to the memory of a 28-year-old Egyptian man beaten to death by the police….” He also used Twitter to help organize and energize the protesters.

If and when Mubarak would step down, the movement will need to surface visible, caring leaders that Egypt will follow.

Followers that make leaders and can also unmake them.

Great leaders make sacrifices for their followers even as they ask for sacrifices. They rely on invisible leaders and followers to be the backbone of the company or the cause.

Great leaders realize that their ability to lead effectively comes from us. When leaders forget that, they place the security of their positions at risk.

As you think about your work, ask yourself what would propel you to take the lead when the chips were down. You might surprise yourself.


4 thoughts on “Is There an Invisible Leader in You? | Examples from the Egyptian Protesters

    • Kathy, what a lovely comment. How about the turn of events since the post went up? I’ve been glued to the TV, so inspired by how grounded, intelligent, and peaceful the Egyptian protesters are. I’m with you…it’s a reminder of the good that we share. We’re watching an historic event that should mark huge changes.

  1. I am so happy that the protesters won – so far so good. Feeling nervous about who is going to step up and lead Egypt towards democracy. Your post made me think that there is a lot of competent people that we just don’t hear about in the news.

    • I was gratified that the protesters were successful and share your trepidation about the future. It’s amazing how people step up to the plate when they care deeply about something. Having the courage to follow what you know is right is inspiring and, at times, daunting. Thanks for your note. ~Dawn

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