The new semester began with a trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The visit to the museum is always a humbling experience because one suddenly feels overwhelmed by a long list of questions as the tour guide leads us through the hallways while also describing the unimaginable sufferings victims went through. The tour guide is not the only source of information as one is also introduced to the horrors of the holocaust through videos, pictures, and writings. It is not uncommon for the visitors to experience a mix of emotions such as sadness, pain, disgust, and anger that the world stood silent as the lives were lost, families were broken, women and children perished, and dreams and hopes were destroyed.
Hitler took a systematic and disciplined approach to turn his vision into reality. While reading the things he wrote in jail, one cannot help but wonder whether his prison experiences were instrumental in inspiring him to grab power through propaganda. He got rid of his opponents and he blamed the problems of the society on the vulnerable groups of people. The image of him bowing to President Paul von Hidenburg on March 21st 1933 reveals his shrewd side. People at the time must have seen him as someone who had become a better person and deserved to become a Chancellor of Germany.
He used fear and shock tactics to garner support and his attempts at propaganda were so effective that neighbors started viewing each other with suspicion and Jews were seen as the enemy of the state. The Jews were stripped of their assets, businesses, homes, and academic positions and were vilified to such an extent that their own country fellows started seeing them as subpar humans, not even worthy of basic human dignity. To justify his brutal actions and heinous crimes, Hitler manipulated his people in a disciplined manner. He made the most shocking claims to ensure his followers believed what he told them. He also deployed his charismatic leadership to win support from the hopeless citizens and assured them the best days of Germany are ahead. He convinced them he has what it takes to make Germany a great country again. His propaganda efforts even encouraged people to rely on physical appearances to discriminate against the Jewish people. It is mind boggling how he created an atmosphere of distrust and forced the intelligent people to bend down on their knees. Even more astonishing was Hitler’s success at creating an army of loyalists who carried out inhumane acts under the disguise of self-defense. Suddenly, cruel acts had become the status quo.
I have transformational leadership style. My education at the Holocaust Museum has convinced me transformational leaders can influence their followers in both positive and negative ways. Hitler came from Austria to Germany yet he succeeded in changing Germany through deception, fear mongering, and persecution of opponents. His oppressive style forced the remaining opponents to fall in line or else face his wrath.
I have realized transformational leadership requires carefully evaluating different ideas and successfully selling your vision to the followers so that they are willing to implement your ideas. The reading of the Resonant Leader and personal reflections have convinced me high emotional intelligence is necessary to lead the followers so that their actions benefit the company. Moreover, adherence to moral standards serves as a useful system of checks and balances when making decisions.
Hitler engaged in criminal acts yet his scared citizens watched him as silent spectators, unable to stop him. He was like a cancer whose each action was more malevolent than the preceding one. The willingness of his followers to blindly support him showed how powerful an influence can be even if it is negative in nature. His manipulation led to the deaths of six million Jews in gruesome manner such as starvation, shootings, smoke chambers, and burning furnaces.
I still struggle to understand how humans could be so cruel that they would mercilessly kill their fellow citizens. But I also believe just as a negative influence may impose huge costs on the organization or the society, positive leadership can also transform the societies. While we should never forget the tragedy of the holocaust, we should pledge to never allow such a thing to happen again and to make the world a better place for everyone.
The leadership should be complemented with high moral standards and humility. This would not only yield positive results for the business but may also produce compounding dividends by inspiring future leaders and followers to act in the same manner. We are fortunate to have living examples in Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Nelson Mandela whose transformative leadership reminds us that the power can be used in a positive manner to inspire people and create a better world for the future generations.
Witnessing the dangers of harmful leadership by Hitler has convinced me we should always stay vigilant and follow our moral compass to fight for the rights of fellow citizens. We should treat other people as we would like to be treated ourselves.