Finding the Mohamed Bouazizi in Your World


I’m looking for the Mohamed Bouazizi in my world. . . and in yours.

Mind you, this is scary leadership stuff.

Bouazizi was angry. He was a street vegetable vendor. A policewoman fined him and took his stuff;  she was unsatisfied with the fine he paid, and so her assistants allegedly attacked him. He tried to complain to authorities. They wouldn’t see him. Furious and desperate, he doused himself in fuel and set himself ablaze. And, as many have written: the whole Middle East went up in flames as a result of his actions on December 17, 2010. Millions of people for millions of hours hopelessly accepted millions of abuses. Mohamed said: No more. In the hospital, he survived his self-immolation for a couple weeks, and within a couple more weeks, the 23-year ruler of Tunisia was gone. Thanks to Mohamed.

Mohamed is an extreme figure in an extreme time. Yet he stands as an example of how we can cease to listen to the voices at the margin. We may say they’re crazy – self-immolation is surely extreme – but they get really crazy, when they feel no one is listening. There are a lot of cries for attention these days. Some may seem sensible. Others totally crazy:  A pastor lights a Quran on fire; enraged parents and the GLBT community say bullying is not normal child’s play; the Tea Party folks feel they’ve been taxed without really being heard and represented; and every few months it seems another boy-next-door shoots up teachers and classmates in school.  As I said: some are crazy, some speak to the crazies running the asylum. The commonality lies in the need to hear the voices at the edges.

One of the worst things you can EVER do when you’re leading is to stop listening. And you can’t wait for them to set themselves on fire. Who’s on the margins – or feels they are – in your world? Who can’t get heard? Who’s getting bullied? Who feels invisible? Who’s withdrawn?

As leaders of human institutions, we’ll always fall short.  It’s when we pretend that we’ve got it right and everyone else just needs to suck it up and move along that we get in trouble. And it’s then that we could use a little Mohamed Abouazizi to speak truth to our power.  You can’t sit in your office or behind your desk and be complacent if you’re going to

Lead with your best self.


  • We can listen, but when it comes time to communicate there is the second challenge. To communicate and be tolerant, and try to compromise with people who are not tolerant, and will not compromise gets us to a point of needing new thinking. Active campaigns against reason, by re-writing of history, confounding the meaning of U. S. Constitution, by setting people in tribes against each other, by mis-education, are leading our country to a diminshed condition. The bullys need to be called out, no matter how conventional they can sometimes make themselves appear. For a good reference on this read CONSERVATIVES WITHOUT CONSCIENCE, by John Dean, of the Nixon White House.

  • Like Mohamed Bouazizi, every employee and entrepreneur struggles within difficult economic and governmental environments. For example, here in the U.S., even the most successful career women with children engage in “the mommy wars.”

    In the Feb 14th edition of The New Yorker, Tina Fey writes, “The topic of working moms is a tap-dance in a minefield. How do you juggle it all? people constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes. You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you? their eyes say. My standard answer is that I have the same struggles as any working parent but with the good fortune to be working at my dream job.”

    Motherhood, it seems, is the Middle East of social controversy. Alliances may shift, new dogmas and leaders may arise, tactics may change, but the fundamental conflict resists resolution. Despite the efforts of would-be peacemakers, impassioned partisans continue battling to claim all the territory as their own. My way, they declare, is the one right way to be a good mother, a real woman, a fulfilled human being.

    Fortunately, nobody dies in the mommy wars. And, despite the ongoing verbal assaults, American women have actually established a modus vivendi. Most continue to have and raise children and, in greater numbers than ever before, to combine motherhood not just with jobs but careers—vocations in which they make long-term investments and from which they derive not only income but personal satisfaction and identity.

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