Occupy Outburst…Lesson on Leadership

Last Friday presented a unique and possibly once in a lifetime experience – attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Nestled away in the Swiss Alps, Davos is the highest city within Europe at 5120 feet and is surrounded by beautiful mountains glistening with snow. The long and windy trip around the mountains made the event seem even more exclusive and special. Once I arrived in the city, I stood in shock for a second thinking “I am at the World Economic Forum.” After walking around for a few hours and exploring the city I noticed that there were thousands of black Audi cars that all looked the same – tinted windows and all. In fact, I even got a glimpse at Sean Parker, the creator of Napster.

Not only did I get to walk the streets where the top minds in the world congregate, but I got to explore the Occupy movement and talk to the opposition leaders. After an intensive conversation with some of the protesters, I began to sympathize with them and understand their position. They expressed feelings of discontent with the World Economic Forum because they believed it was an event where the rich and famous get together and make decisions for the world. They wanted every person to have a voice. The essence of democracy. However, I had to explain to them their fallacy – these leaders who meet do not make any decision for any country. They merely discuss suggestions as how to fix the current economic, cultural, and global situations. Unsatisfied with my comment, they continued to complain about the lack of public voice.

Later that night when heading to the open forum called “Reforming Capitalism”, we ran into them again. I should have suspected, considering the forum is focused around the issues of capitalism. Two hours before the forum started, they were some of the first people at the door, ready to barge in. Not knowing their intentions, a ton of police officers and officials were on standby to help regulate the crowd. As the officers opened the door I almost fell forward as I felt my body being pushed from every angle. Everything went fairly smooth as hundreds of people flowed into the forum.

However, as soon as the moderator finished introducing the panelists, the protesters began to stand up one-by-one shouting “Mic Check” as if they had a microphone. Some of the panelists let out a slight smile and laugh while much of the crowd became frustrated. After a few minutes of shouting and chaos, the occupiers began to shout things like “We want a voice.” A few more minutes of chaos ensued until the moderator tried to bring things under control. More arguing occurred until the moderator and protestors finally agreed on taking a democratic vote to see whether the forum be held in its original format or whether the occupiers got their way with a completely open forum – everyone sitting in a circle. The vote happened quickly, and almost everyone within the forum (350+ people) decided they wanted to hear from the educated panelists. At this point the occupiers became upset and one in the front row decided to start yelling remarks in a rude manner. The funny thing is one of the panelists, Maria, was an occupy leader who was allowed to voice the Occupy Movement’s opinions and views. There was no need for the insolent outbursts. They already had a voice on the stage representing them.

Needless to say that was not enough for the Occupy Movement. So one of the panelists Tomas Sedlacek, who was a reformer in his home country of Czech Republic, decided to give up his seat and allow Occupy to rotate in and out of his seat out of empathy. From this point on the debate went on without too much interruption or chaos, but I must mention my great disappointment with the Occupy Movement.

With over a dozen times to voice their opinion on how to fix the capitalism issue, all they did was complain and complain about the current system. Not one of them offered an alternative. Maria, the Occupy spokesperson, tried to defend this issue by saying “Occupy is not a political power. The aim is to get people to think for themselves.” I completely understood where she was coming from, but I believe that Occupy did not understand it is impossible for everyone to speak on the same level at once. There must be some time of order and rule within the system.

Many times Maria said “We want respect.” She wanted respect for their movement and ideas, yet the Occupy Movement during the session was anything but respectful. The numerous, rude outbursts were uncouth and out of place. The consensus was people wanted to hear from the professionals who were well educated on the issue. However, the Occupy Movement did not want this sort of democracy since it impeded their movement. They wanted a dictatorship where their group got to win over the majority.

I have been thinking this past week about the implications of the poor leadership of the Occupy Movement. Last week we studied the many theories of leadership and one that jumped out at me was the path-goal theory. The theory hinges on leaders motivating their subordinates to accomplish designated goals. One important aspect of this theory is the emphasis of motivation on the group members. If the group members believe that they can perform a task well then they are going to be more motivated. Also, the leader makes decisions with the group in contrast to the more typical hierarchical structure. This type of leadership takes on a more supportive role, although there is some directive leadership involved. This path-goal theory describes emphasizes the importance of the group over the leader.

The same situation existed within the Occupy Movement. The protestors wanted everyone to stand on equal ground and have an equal say. Literally, they wanted the panelists to come down from their stage, get out of their chairs, and join the crowd. However, I would still be there now if we tried to all sit in a circle and have almost 400 people voice their opinions. That is just one small forum. Imagine a world run like that. It would be completely inefficient. Hence, there is a need for directive leaders who take initiative and direct the group towards the goal.

Part of the failure of the Occupy Movement was the lack of a solidified goal. Yes, they wanted to fix capitalism and stop the corrupt rich who control the system. However, like stated before, they offered no other alternative. A goal involves shooting towards something. A goal is not just complaining about the current situation. Whether the solution works or not, an idea is better than no solution at all. They cannot expect change if they are not willing to contribute to the change.

One of the other issues with their leadership was the leaders who represented the Occupy Movement. I must say that the leaders did a poor job in representing who they were. They lacked some of the skills necessary to be a leader. According to the skills approach, one can use their knowledge to accomplish a set of goals and objectives. These types of skills can be learned. The prominent lacking trait that comes to mind in this situation is inability to communicate effectively. Having a leader that can speak for the group is important, especially if the group is trying to gain the support of others. Occupy wanted to get people to jump on their bandwagon, but no one in the audience did because they did not have a solidified goal or ability to express their beliefs to others.

Finally, I want to point out the lack of authenticity within the leadership, especially Maria. She seemed like a sincere person until she began to go against her own arguments. She wanted respect for her cause, yet she and the rest of the protesters did not want to reciprocate that respect to the panel or the rest of the audience. Authentic leadership partly focuses on five characteristics of a leader: purpose, values, relationships, self-discipline, and heart. The heart and passion was definitely there, but a lack of self-discipline and commitment to values outweighed the positive characteristics.

Through this experience I have learned the importance of effective and authentic leadership. “You have to walk the walk and talk the talk.”

2 thoughts on “Occupy Outburst…Lesson on Leadership

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience with those back home. What a great opportunity and one that you are likely to remember. Your description reminds me of a kid in class who fervently waves his hand to make a comment or answer a question but then when called on seems to have forgotten what he was going to say. Cheers, Christina

    • Christina, that was very much so the atmosphere of the room. I like the comparison you used to relate. Glad you enjoyed the post! -Karli

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