Arrogance At Taksim Square: 6 Things Not To Do As A Leader

Two weeks ago we were tear gassed at the edge of Taksim Square in Istanbul.  As we rounded the corner on Iskital Cadessi we saw a smoldering car amid a crowd of demonstrators and immediately were cloaked with the drifting gas.  Unprepared, we quickly left the area and washed our eyes.

Close by or thousands of miles away it seems the same – a healthy protest converted to tragedy by the arrogant leadership of a faltering attempt at democracy.  When you hear young protestors asking for a military coup it’s got to be bad (more journalists have been jailed in this democracy than in the previous military-run government).

Turkey has many differences, cultural and otherwise, from the US, but there are also many similarities – people asking for a voice and stake in the outcome.  Here are 6 things you should not do as a leader if you are trying to create a more open and unified company culture:

  • Assume you understand everyone’s motivation – most leaders have a healthy ego and may react viscerally (“how dare they!”) to opposition to their plan for action.  When this happens you are typically at a high risk for acting destructively.  Take the time to systematically review the potential motivations of others and let them know you are doing so.


  • Assume everyone who has the same values would act like you – even in the case where a leader has strong, positive values that are widely shared, others may interpret them in a different way.  To label their interpretation negatively only makes things worse.
  • Act as though there is only one good plan – you may have the best overall plan but the more input and challenges you consider the more likely others will commit to supporting your effort despite initial concerns.
  • Interpret the opposition’s initial message as the real problem – what leaders often hear first is what people experience on the surface and feel relatively safe to verbalize.  In Istanbul, the initial comments about the green space at Taksim were likely an expression of greater concern about the increasing movement away from the secular society inspired by Ataturk.
  • Respond with action as quickly as possible – people generally respect a thoughtful leader and then are more receptive to the message and accompanying action.  If you are viewed as impulsive, you will lose support for what you intend to accomplish, making your task even more challenging.
  • Act with arrogance – Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s approach increased the resistance which he ultimately quelled with police, water cannons, and tear gas.  Whether or not that is a long-term solution is to be seen, but that doesn’t doesn’t make it a sustainable, profitable company. In the short-term he risked the 2020 Summer Olympics, the Turkish stock market declined by 12% within two weeks and their currency may be devalued.

Emergencies often require decisive action that doesn’t allow for significant input.  But the emphasis is misplaced.  Great organizations build a culture that does not rely on the decision-making of one person, but the leadership of many.  Mr. Erdogan has rejected this approach and, in the process, given us all a great lesson in what not to do with your power.