by Linda Jimenez

Chief Diversity Officer and Staff Vice President – Diversity and Inclusion
WellPoint, Inc.

The flame of revolution in the Middle East that began in Tunisia and toppled the leader of Egypt has now spread to Bahrain and Libya. There are rumblings that China may be next. We have a front row view of leadership, and we must be cognizant of this picture because the same forces that are reshaping the leadership of nations around the world may also touch upon management in corporate organizations.

The facilitators of change were a few individuals, fueled by the Internet and social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype and YouTube, and they provided us with a new evolution of revolution. Egypt shut down the Internet inside the country, but the revolt and our connection and view of the events taking place continued unabated. What we learned is that people can organize and express themselves in ways that were inconceivable a few years ago. Egypt’s struggle for relief from the oppression of the Mubarak regime could have ended very differently but it didn’t. When an attempt was made to crush the revolution by force, “connecting technologies”—as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referenced them—allowed world opinion to intervene and rebuke these efforts.

“Leaders need to be able to live with, cope with and learn from dissent, as long as it is properly motivated.”

For corporate organizations, this front row view of leadership has heightened leaders’ responsibility to be more aware of the challenges posed by a digitally connected world, and the opportunities that world presents to us. The Internet as a commercial phenomenon is about two decades old. Within our organizations today many techniques for digital insight and learning within corporate communications, operations and training are already well grounded. We can be certain that digital connectivity will become more pervasive. Blocking it is not an option – just ask Hasni Mubarak. Social media has provided a megaphone that is giving voice to the aspirations of millions.

What does the story in Egypt and Libya tell us? From my perspective, we must recognize that leaders are defined by those who choose to follow. Power expressed through coercion, dictatorship, and strong arm tactics are short-term leadership strategies that are destined to fail. Leaders need to be able to live with, cope with and learn from dissent, as long as it is properly motivated. This requires emotional intelligence, superior listening and communication skills, and the maturity of an open heart.

What revolutions are brewing in your organization? How do you know, and what are you doing to keep your finger on the pulse of your industry, your employees, your customers, and your marketplace? Our front row view of Middle East transformation makes it clear that successful leaders lead not by oppression, but rather with open dialogue, the courage to fail and a culture that doesn’t involve retribution. The fundamental lesson from the Middle East and recent events is that revolts seldom explode overnight. Great leaders must be willing to listen, engage, influence and ultimately lead change. And, the power of “connecting technologies” cannot be ignored.

This article has been sponsored by:
WellPoint, Inc.

Linda Jimenez is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her BA with honors. She is also a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and has spent 20 years specializing in labor and employment law.