Knowing when it’s time to leave

One of the most important decisions a leader will make is when to leave power.

One of the most important decisions a leader will make is when to leave power.

All leaders face that moment.

Timing is crucial. Go too soon and you won’t leave a legacy. Go too late and your legacy is tarnished.

Following the events in Egypt these past few weeks has shown that.

While we sit in our western world and wonder why on earth Egypt President Hosni Mubarak doesn’t just step down and end the protests, Mubarak strategizes how to fight the upsurge.

What Mubarak is doing is what any leader would do; he’s fighting for his own survival.

Mubarak has approached the protests as an invasion to be dealt with using police force and military strategies. Cut communication.

Hold them back. Keep stranding strong. Eventually, they will back down.

This process does often work and Mubarak has some support. Leaders are supposed to show strength and lead, not back down at a coup.

If they gave up, chaos would rule.

Hit the rewind button two years back when our prime minister faced a similar fight-or-flee situation.

In his case, it wasn’t the unruly people, but the three other party leaders who could take away his leadership with a coalition government.

The fear was Stephen Harper wasn’t addressing the issues in the economy fast enough; he wasn’t.

He could have bowed down, but he didn’t want to release his power. So, he fought, not with an army, but with policy.

It was a cheap shot to prorogue government, but it worked.

In the end, the people didn’t want three leaders, anyway. The gamble paid off and Harper reacted by sharpening his pencil when it came to economic measures. It was a win-win.

But, what if Harper hadn’t exercised his strength and stepped down? He could not have come back. His political career would have been quietly diminished.

The Conservatives, without a natural leader in the wings, would have lost the next election.

I don’t know if that would have been better or worse. But it points to the pivotal decisions leaders make to stick it out. Indeed, Harper’s legacy is that he has survived.

Now, Harper has five years of governing under his belt. However, it isn’t enough to keep him there.

His next junction for removing himself will be if he fails to get a majority in the next election.

If he wins with a minority, will he say the party needs someone else who can deliver a majority or will he hang on? If defeated, would he still stay?

Closer to home, the leaders of the provincial Liberals and the NDP know all about missing the opportunity for a graceful exit. They waited too long to go—not by much, but they ended up being pushed, not going entirely on their own volition.

It wasn’t a palace coup that lead to Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP leader Carole James losing their spots, but it was strong persuasion to leave. Fortunately, they left proper time for a transition to a new leader.

But the question always is why didn’t they take a more opportune time to leave?

The thing is leaders are always questioned, criticized and provoked.

If they are not strong enough to get through the day-to-day mini-revolts, they are not good leaders.

A leader needs vision to know when to keep rule in line and when to move over.

The trouble with leaders is they have to lead. Without anyone to lead, their purpose is gone. Stepping down usually doesn’t make the top 10 things for them to do any particular morning.

So, it makes sense, as well, that Mubarak has no plans to release his power until he’s ready. Despite people dying trying to oust him, he hangs on.

Maybe he wants to show strength as a leader and thinks it is better to hold the office and let the crowd subside.

Or, maybe he is completely ignorant of what needs to be done.

In the end, the people will endure through the crisis, but the leader may not.

Shelley Nicholl owns Mad Squid Ink, a professional writing service, www.madsquidink.com.

madsquid@shaw.ca .