Arrogance Always Precedes a Fall

Frequently I engage in good fodder with colleagues and luminaries on topics that seem obscure—but then somehow prove to have powerful lessons for today’s businesses.

This post comes courtesy of Steve Frampton – who left a successful career as a procurement professional and outsourcing change management expert at Kimberly Clark to become a business coach. Steve offhandedly remarked that some of the world’s leaders should learn the Vested Way and cited the Romanov Dynasty as fodder for me to ponder.

I was immediately intrigued because I recently had written a blog post on Coldplay’s rock anthem “Vida La Vida” (song and lyrics here) where I shared its insightful lyrics about arrogance that’s always a prelude to a fall: “I used to rule the world/Seas would rise when I gave the word/Now in the morning I sleep alone/Sweep the streets I used to own.”

Not being a history buff, I had to bone up on my Russian history. For those rusty on Russian history like me check out this Russiapedia entry on The Romanovs.

In a nutshell, The Romanovs ruled Russia from 1613 until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Under the first three emperors—Michael, Alexis and Fyodor—Russia emerged as a major Slavic power. Subsequent emperors, notably Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, established the country as a European power.

It is often called Europe’s most obsessive dynasty, and there’s probably a good reason for that—the Romanovs ruled mostly with an iron fist. Think of it: more than 300 years of rule and only two “great” leaders and the last one—Nicholas II—was an unmitigated disaster.

Nicholas II, “Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias,” ruled from 1894-1917. I am not sure if Coldplay was inspired by Nicholas II for their song – but it wouldn’t surprise me. Nicholas II was indeed power hungry and arrogant.  His ambitions lead to a catastrophic loss during the Russo-Japanese War. He subsequently took personal command of the Russian armies during World War I, in which more than 3 million Russians were killed. During the war his government was run by the Empress Alexandra and the infamous monk, Rasputin.

Rasputin, a real piece of work, exerted great influence over the Tsar and his family, claiming miraculous powers to heal his hemophiliac son, and he appropriated great power during Nicholas’ absence. That, combined with his reputation for debauchery steadily discredited the royal family; Rasputin is considered a main cause of the Russian Revolution. Nicholas’ mismanagement of the war and the chaos in his government led to his abdication and later his imprisonment. In July 1918 the Bolsheviks killed him and his family.

Nicholas’ 23-year reign saw Imperial Russia go from one of the great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. He was nicknamed Bloody Nicholas because of the Khodynka Tragedy, Bloody Sunday, the anti-Semitic pogroms, his execution of political opponents, and his pursuit of military campaigns on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

Nicholas, the self-styled autocrat, was poorly advised, undemocratic, and made so many wrong and bloody decisions that his family and his country could not survive.

Now my question to you: What if trust, collaboration, shared value and working together for mutual prosperity and the common good rather than seizing and holding on to power at all costs had occurred at some point to the Romanovs and especially to Nicholas? Obviously we’ll never know but the march of history in the twentieth century almost certainly would have been different if Nicholas had seen a different light. There might not have been a Russian Revolution, the rise of the USSR and the Cold War.

But as Coldplay wisely sings: “Never an honest word. But that was when I ruled the world.”

Nicholas fell so far that he could only dream of sweeping the Russian streets he used to own.

Image: Nicholas II by OlestC via Flickr

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