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 Toxic Followers by Ira Chaleff

-comments welcome-


 Those of us in the followership field have given considerable thought to the

subject of toxic leadership. We will also need to deal at some point with

the uncomfortable issue of toxic followership.


The Washington Post gave its top headline today, July 5, 2008, to an article

titled "Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown." The article gives surprisingly

detailed accounts of the deliberations that occurred inside President Robert

Mugabe's inner circle after he lost the initial vote for re-election to the

position he has held for 28 years since Zimbabwe threw off colonial rule.

The article reports that:



 "Mugabe told the gathering he planned to give up power in a televised

speech to the nation the next day, according to the written notes of one

participant that were corroborated by two other people with direct knowledge

of the meeting.

    "But Zimbabwe's military chief, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, responded

that the choice was not Mugabe's alone to make. ,,, Chiwenga told Mugabe his

military would take control of the country to keep him in office or the

president could contest a runoff election, directed in the field by senior

army officers supervising a military-style campaign against the opposition.

    ".the plan was given a code name: CIBD. The acronym, which proved

apt in the fevered campaign that unfolded over the following weeks, stood

for Coercion, Intimidation, Beating, Displacement."

    "In the three months between the March 29 vote and the June 27

runoff election, ruling party militias under the guidance of 200 senior army

officers battered the Movement for Democratic Change, bringing the

opposition party's network of activists to the verge of oblivion. By

election day, more than 80 opposition supporters were dead, hundreds were

missing, thousands were injured and hundreds of thousands were homeless.

Moran Tsvangirai, the party's leader, dropped out of the contest and took

refuge in the Dutch Embassy.

    "The account reveals previously undisclosed details of the strategy

behind the campaign as it was conceived and executed by Mugabe and his top

advisors, who from that first meeting through the final vote appeared to

hold decisive influence over the president.

    ". The notes and interviews make clear that its (Mugabe's political

party) military supporters, who stood to lose wealth and influence if Mugabe

bowed out, were not prepared to relinquish their authority simply because

voters checked Tsvangirai's name on the ballots."



This is a rare documented look into the inner circles of power. We see a

leader who was apparently inclined to do the right thing per the tenets of

democratic transitions and was talked out of doing so by at least one of his

followers who commanded the country's military power. While Mugabe clearly

could have stood his ground, he was swayed by the toxic follower's

determined arguments. While we can argue that the leadership role in this

case passed from the President to the military commander whose aims and

methods were both toxic, from the perspective of structural government roles

and authorities, the military commander was in the formal follower role and

exerted his toxic influence upwards as well as outwards and downwards.


There is often an implicit assumption in followership studies, including my

own, that Lord Acton's famous assertion "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute

power corrupts absolutely" applies to the positional leader, and that

followers have the responsibility to mitigate the distorting effects of

power. Clearly, from the example cited here, the reflected power

senior-followers/subordinate leaders enjoy is equally capable of corrupting

the positional follower role. This would appear to invite its own track of

study and practice that focuses on how leaders identify, insulate themselves

from and disempower toxic followership. The interaction of power's tendency

to corrupt both the positional leader and those close to and

benefiting from the positional power is sure to pose great challenges to

both this field of study and to practitioners working to detoxify the

leader-follower system.


For the full article on the Mugabe campaign of violence see:




Interesting thoughts and the inclusion of information from the inner-

circle, or circle of influence, provides some light on the country's

management.  It also gives pause, and this is from an untrained, and

unknowing observer, that the military is the real leader, Mugabe is a

pawn or public face.  If so, I suspect Mugabe's presence may be

shortened if he dare cross the real (military) leadership, too much, too

often.--Gene Dixon Director, ECU Engineering, Ink, East Carolina University

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