Leadership and follow-up are the basis of successful cooperation. But their requirements are subject to change. This time our columnist Randolph Geisel looks at the question: How do we deal with tyrants?
Vladimir Putin keeps the world in suspense. His invasion of Ukraine poses a challenge to the international community. Perhaps no one still considers the Russian president an impeccable democrat. Considering him a flawless tyrant is more accurate.
Mashhad in the days preceding the invasion bears witness to this. Here Putin showed the cameras how to intimidate and humiliate others. A “strange show of strength” he called the mirror. But these demonstrations of power are not limited to heads of state only. It also occurs – under different circumstances and in less dramatic situations – in management or boardroom reports. He must understand how everyone who leads and follows operates. That is why it is the topic of this column today.
Humiliation in the Russian Security Council
what happened? The meeting of the Russian Security Council discussed whether Russia should recognize the People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk: the crucial key to justifying the subsequent invasion of Ukraine. The framework was deliberately chosen by the Kremlin and contained all the ingredients to represent Putin with all his might. A huge room, in the center of which Putin heads a luxurious office. Safety advisors are placed on small chairs at least ten meters apart. They should go up to the pulpit individually and give their assessment of the situation.
Scare is a creative game with language, gestures, facial expressions, space and time. – Randolph Geisel
In the case of the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, this report took on ridiculous features. The head of the secret service apparently stumbled several times and Putin literally reviewed him. Everyone could tell who the cook was and who the waiter was. But how do tyrants succeed in intimidating others, making them small and domineering? It is a creative manipulation of language, gestures, facial expressions, space and time.
Three levels of strength demonstration
The most important component is space. The great distance from the boss’s table to the podium was carefully chosen. The narrow chair and standing desk were customized in this production. The band does not even pretend to be a community. Everyone (there was only one woman) and everyone sat on the board alone and made their own statements. There can never be a balance between the group and the privileged position of the tyrant. Putin always has the last word.
The second most important level is the combination of language, facial expressions and gestures. With their help, the despot demonstrates his superiority and presents his counterpart. Putin asks in short, sharp sentences. Naryshkin lectures about what is and is not. interrupt. He asks him to be specific. He looks amused to the contemptuous side. With each of these maneuvers, it seems that the intelligence chief breaks down more and more and loses a thread.
Who sets the tone and speed?
Then the time comes. It is also a common way tyrants demonstrate their power. You set the appointment, you set the time to talk, you set the pace. You can feel that too. Putin offered a series of questions and answers, while Naryshkin drowned in lengthy explanations. Putin ends the brief dialogue with: “Sit down.”
At school it would be something like: “Sit down, six.” But the Security Council included the most powerful and distinguished experts that Putin possessed. Anyone who has mastered the tools of a tyrant can turn an inveterate macho into insecure cowards. Because their power plays intimidating and disturbing the other person. It scratches the self-esteem and self-confidence of the other if he exercises it consistently.
How to counter demonstrations of force
But does it have to be? No, because manifestations of power can be opposed: as long as you accept that it is all about defining a hierarchy and a transitional order. The intent to speak wisely on this matter should recede. So what can Naryshkin do?
Most importantly, keep your emotions in check. Poker face, calm voice, steady look. Meet short questions with short answers. Do not impose your own style, but meet Putin’s style and style on an equal footing. And certainly not apologizing or justifying. But then there will be another trump card that in this case can only be played by those who have reasonable experience in the game of strength. It depends on the trick: confidently break the established pattern, undermining the stage of the show.
That’s what it’s all about: reclaim space
Please imagine the following: Naryshkin hears the accusation and scorn “that’s not the point here,” calmly turns away from his desk and moves steadily towards Putin. Arriving at the president’s table, Putin replied with a friendly smile: “You’re right, boss.” Naryshkin could reclaim space, set the pace and turn a friendly approval into a powerful gesture. Even a tyrant of Putin’s caliber could have his jaw dropped.
All that was behind the disturbing spectacle: the strange display of power could have been undermined. Wherever you are dealing with power-obsessed and autocratic people in a corporate context, this small example may help you get out of the predicament with more confidence from the head of the intelligence service.
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