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A Portrayal of Joseph Stalin: Life Path and Political Career

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Loseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili was a revolutionary figure in world history and his life paints a conflicted portrait on how one can simultaneously be a good leader, loved, detested, successful, and failed. Renowned historian Robert Conquest is quoted as stating that loseb, “perhaps more than any other, determined the course of the 20th century.” Loseb is a controversial person in history because of what he used his leadership positions to accomplish in his native U.S.S.R or, more accurately, Georgia. I first became fascinated with Loseb while traveling through the country of Georgia and noticed the shrines, memorials, and statues of a man I knew by a different name. Joseph Stalin, as he was previously known to me, is credited as the hero of the second World War, guilty of genocide, terrorism, and is recognized amongst the great statesmen of the 20th century.

I cannot condone or celebrate most of Loseb’s life but I would like to recognize how his authoritative leadership style incorporated dogged determination, charm, and conscious incompetence. He had, at the height of his power, accomplished everything that he had set out to do and led one of the largest empires in the history of the world, commanding 15.3% of the total land mass on the planet. By our class’ definition of leadership; “the dynamic and active creation and maintenance of an organizational culture and strategic systems that focus the collective energy of both leading people and managing resources toward meeting the needs of the external environment utilizing the most efficient, effective, and efficacious methods possible by moral means”, Stalin was successful on all fronts with the obvious exception relating to “moral means”. He adapted and communicated his goals and then coerced, however despicable that coercion was, others to collectively meet the needs of the external environment.

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Blake and Moulton’s Leadership Theory

For this reasoning, I have chosen to step into the behavioral school to better analyze Stalin and his responsiveness to the two-dimensions of leadership as elaborated by Blake and Mouton’s leadership grid. I further felt that this model would be useful because Blake and Moulton were interested in boosting production within corporations. Lenin, Stalin, and the U.S.S.R were very much interested in boosting production amongst their citizens. Most scholars have noted that Stalin was very much oriented towards tasks and shunned relationship behaviors. I believe this is an oversimplification because Stalin exhibited drastically different relationship behaviors to those inside and outside of his immediate circle.

I feel as if there are two historical Stalins. He displayed strong concern for people and strong concern for results (9,9) at some points while exhibiting low concern for people and high concern for results at other times (9,1). This was evidenced by his undying loyalty and commitment to Vladimir Lenin, his leader, as well as his peers and students. Stalin taught classes in socialist theory and was very dedicated to those around him and within his circle. At this same time, he was also engaging in racketeering, kidnappings, and extortion; these actions marked a demonstrably low concern for people. His concern for those within his circle was matched only by his focus on the goal.

Up until he formally took power, Stalin believed that each national and ethnic group within the U.S.S.R should have the right to self-expression and a moderate degree of independence giving the U.S.S.R full oversight of regional affairs. His goal was to distribute and return the wealth of the land to the common man. Towards the middle and end of his power, Stalin demonstrated a complete lack of concern for individuals, especially those outside of his inner circle such as Jews. He stands guilty of effectively enslaving or killing many of his followers but continued to industrialize his country and bring about economic and scientific advances that returned some degree of wellbeing to the general population.

To further elaborate, Stalin was well known for often inviting colleagues and their families to dine at his residence. He also spent significant amounts of time watching movies late at night with government officials. Many historians and biographers have noted that friendship was important to Stalin and that he often used friendship to manage power over his followers. Overall, Stalin demonstrated considerable concern for people who were close to him and naturally gravitated to people. During this same time Stalin was spreading anti-Semitism, killing and detaining millions, and stoking war. These victims, one could argue, were often his followers but also outside of his immediate team.

In consideration of all of this, I agree with Blake & Moulton in that different situations require different models of a leader. I believe that a good leader, albeit not always healthy, must somehow be able to respond with and model various types of leadership in accordance with an ever changing and flexible situation. Based on the leadership grid, Stalin would seem to be somewhere between authoritarian compliance leadership and team management. Depending on the situation, he vacillated between the (9,1) and the (9,9). The danger here is that we often note that good leaders exhibit consistency and authenticity. Stalin was not the best example of consistency and any leader that switches between models runs the risk of losing the confidence of their followers.

To push back against this initial evaluation, I asked myself if the millions of people that Stalin killed were technically part of his team. Yes, they were followers, but did Stalin owe them any level of concern? Yes, in many cases the followers were employees, but what degree of concern did he owe them if they were not individually instrumental to achieving the goal? Admittedly I continue to struggle with this idea and question; at what point or distance from the leader are followers no longer considered a part of the team? I now ask myself “what if Stalin did not actually change leadership styles and he instead remained consistent?”.

Accordingly, I attempted to identify where I felt that Stalin falls on the leadership grid and had some difficulty based on who I considered “people”. I therefore split concern for people into two categories based on priximity to the leader. This third dimension was heavily influence by research done on the proximity principle. The proximity principle in social psychology suggests that people form stronger relationships with those they interact with more often and therefore treat them better. This was very interesting when considering Stalin because he is rumored to have never witnessed any of the killings or tortures that he ordered. Maybe if he had seen the individuals, they would have become more proximal to him. I adapted Blake and Moulton’s grid by adding a third dimension in order to visualize where I think Stalkin would fall if his leadership style was static and unchanging. With a third dimension added, Stalin can clearly be defined as a 9,9,1 (see graphic below) and he seems to have remained in that model throughout his career.

Three specific leadership skills

Loseb, as the leader of the second world, displayed many strong leadership skills that he learned and honed over the course of his life. In differentiating skills from traits, I tend to consider skills things that anyone can learn while traits are usually aspects of one’s personality and are usually innate. To guide theorizing around skills, I made use of the Adaptive Leadership Questionnaire and the Reality-Based Self-Assessment completed in class. As far as skills go, of note were Loseb’s vision and ability to set strong goals; the growth of his comfort with delegation and relying on others; and his ability to mobilize and organize resources.

Loseb always had a goal in mind and was constantly working towards this goal at all times. As stated earlier, Loseb believed that each national and ethnic group within the U.S.S.R should have the right to self-expression and a moderate degree of independence giving the U.S.S.R full oversight of regional affairs. He further wanted to distribute and return the wealth of the land to the common man, collectivism, while also modernizing U.S.S.R in order to fight off perceived and actual threats, internal and external. Everything that Loseb did revolved around this goal. He wrote books, commentaries, and gave speeches about this singular vision. Every Russian knew what he was fighting for, although many did not necessarily agree with his vision or how he planned to get there.

A key purpose of leadership is to mobilize and manage resources. Loseb had a unique gift for resource management but he truly grew into the role once he took power. As a student and young man, Loseb mobilized human resources to take strike actions, protest, and support his cause. While his resource management policies are thought to have caused famines across the U.S.S.R, Loseb did in fact increase production and develop infrastructure across the empire. Effectively managing people and physical resources was one of skills that first carried Stalin into power as members of the Bolsheviks were convinced that he could effectively manage minority groups within the U.S.S.R.

Loseb also came to recognize the limits of his own abilities, thus forcing him to delegate tasks and lead from behind on some issues. One such example of this was his military career. Loseb was largely a failed military officer and lost more battles than he won. He often disobeyed direct orders and made poor decisions. This frailty was evidenced by his defeat to the White Armies during the Russian Civil War and then to the Poles. After these defeats but before taking power, Loseb resigned from his military posts in recognition that he was not a strong field leader.

Once in power, Loseb did not become successful in theatre until he relinquished some control to his advisors and generals. He learned how to delegate to some degree but never fully mastered the art as he was often suspicious of his subordinates and never fully trusted them, especially those holding formal power. This all being said, the U.S.S.R most likely would have lost WWII if Loseb had not learned to take a step back and allow his generals to lead in their specific fields of expertise. I believed that this single skill, although never fully developed, was the most critical to his success as a leader because the war would have been lost had he not learned to delegate and remove himself from battle-field strategizing.

Three specific leadership behaviors

Along with the above references skills, Stalin also made use of a number of behaviors that allowed him to be an effective and good leader. Stalin was always building relationships with those around him and often invited colleagues and officials to dine with him at his private residence. To use the language of the Leadership Behavior Questionnaire, Stalin was extremely “friendly with members of the group”. Again, the key word is group. Stalin could be incredibly warm and charming to those within his group but he could also be deceitful and manipulative to those he perceived as outsiders.

Stalin’s students and protégés were considered members of his group and he always made time to teach and mentor them. Mentoring and staff development are a key component of leadership and the Reality-Based Assessment. As previously mentioned, Stalin gave lectures and helped spread communism as well as the teachings of his own mentor, Leninism. He also dedicated significant amounts of time to the contact and development of young functionaries. Granted that some have argued that these efforts were intended to build his own cult following, these behaviors were nonetheless leadership behaviors and supported Stalin’s success as a leader.

When reviewing his biographies and the diaries of Stalin’s colleagues, I found it interesting that it is widely reported that he never raised his voice in anger or lost control. In fact, he was often recorded as having a sense of humor and joking with those around him. I believe that this behavior was the single most important behavior that allowed Stalin to build authenticity with those around him. He was charming and tried to make people around him feel comfortable and at ease. It is necessary to keep in mind that Stalin did not forcibly take power, others elected, appointed, and raised him to the top. It even seems as if Stalin joked with people and allowed himself to be teased as is often demonstrated in country club leadership. As a strong leadership behavior Stalin, when relaxed, cracked jokes and mimicked or charmed others. This behavior lowered people’s guards and allowed him to push his agenda.

Three specific leadership traits

From class discussion, we know that certain traits have been identified across the many leadership frameworks. Of the five major common traits, Stalin exhibited four; intelligence, self-confidence, determination, and sociability. By all accounts, Loseb bestowed with above average intellectual and emotional intelligence. He was both a poet and an intellectual and originally began working with the Bolsheviks because he was one of the few people who knew how to read and write. He was regarded by his peers as the best student in class because of his natural affinity for language, art, and music. He was also a social monitor who was constantly assessing the emotions of those around him. To his moral detriment but professional effectiveness, he preyed on the emotions of those around himself and knew how to manipulate others. That said, he revealed his own emotions but rarely raised his voice or allowed an emotion to overtake him.

Following his intellectual intelligence and ability with language, Stalin was also an articulate leader. He is famous for not only effectively communicating ideas to others but for also using his words to motivate and connect with those listening. It was this trait that allowed Stalin to hone his skills managing resources, especially human resources. Before becoming the leader of the second world, Stalin wrote books, managed newspapers, and wrote several scholarly pieces on collectivism. His poetry is still canonized in Georgia where students continue to study and analyze his prose.

Above all else Stalin’s persistence best explains his success as a leader. Some may call this resiliency or stubbornness but Stalin never gave up on what he wanted and his vision. In coming to power Stalin was arrested seven times, exiled six times, but escaped and returned to fight for his cause five times. Some could argue that this was the dedication of a zealot but these numbers speak to the fact that Stalin was, above all else, persistent. In reflection, I think that I would abandon my cause after being arrested once, but his passion and persistence allowed him to gain credibility within the political party and eventually succeed in leadership. Stalin never gave up on his vision.

Joseph Stalin in Healthcare

One of the major problems in healthcare is the shifting goal and the lack of an agreed upon vision. Are we aiming for healthcare for all as a right or should quality healthcare be a luxury item? What is just the right amount of Medicare that should be standard? What is minimum essential coverage? Depending to whom one poses these questions, we are likely to get very different response. I believe that one of healthcare’s greatest challenges is identifying a vision and then communicating that vision to professionals and the general population.

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