Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana AlliluyevaStalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva by Rosemary Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve read in a long time. There are times reading about Svetlana Alliluyeva’s life when you just want to reach out – although she’s been dead for several years now – and hold her in comfort and fix all that is emotionally broken in her to give her peace and stability. And yet that is beyond me – indeed, it is beyond any human capability.

Even though she was the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Svetlana was also just another one of his victims. Stalin’s effect on his family, his associates, and indeed on the citizens of Russia shows what tyrants, despots, narcissists, and power-hungry people in positions of leadership leave in their wake. The damage outlives them and it is, in the end, their only lasting legacy.

Joseph Stalin was a cruel, heartless, and loveless man. Whether he began life that way isn’t clear, but in his effort to gain power and control over Russia after Lenin’s death, he lost any humanity that he may have had before he embarked on that quest.

He treated Svetlana’s mother, his second wife, with a cruelty that perhaps drove her away from her home and her children from the time they were born. (In many ways, Svetlana never had a mother, although she did have a nanny who loved her and whom she loved, but it was not the same as having a mother.) What is certain is that Stalin’s last act of cruelty to Svetlana’s mother was the catalyst for her subsequent suicide when Svetlana was 6 1/2 years old.

Stalin was in the midst of consolidating his power and his purges and gulags were already in motion when Svetlana’s mother died. Until then, both sides of the family were around and a part of Svetlana’s life. Because many of her mother’s relatives knew Stalin when he began as a Georgian Bolshevik, they also knew his secrets as a young man.

Suddenly, they began disappearing from Svetlana’s life into exile or the death camps that took care of Stalin’s problems and rivals. Death, secret police, and the constant threat of harm were things that Svetlana became aware of early on. Neither she nor her brothers were exempted from that threat or the sudden eruptions and violence that accompanied her father’s wrath.

Stalin and Svetlana had a push-pull relationship that was never secure for Svetlana. When she matured enough to realize how terrible her father was and the extent of his cruelty and disregard for human life, she began what would be a complicated love-hate view of Stalin the rest of her life.

All of this led to an emptiness, a restlessness, a searching in Svetlana that never got filled, not got eased, and never got found in her lifetime. The hole of emptiness was bottomless. The persistent restlessness never found a quiet, peaceful place to alight and anchor to. The endless searching was chasing ghosts and illusions of things that never existed to begin with.

Yet despite all the psychological damage that Svetlana suffered, she was generally sane, very cogent, extremely intelligent and insightful, and, most amazingly, enduringly resilient. Although she had trouble forming and maintaining stable and healthy relationships (she suffered from anxious-preoccupied attachment and made terrible decisions and choices because of it), she took whatever came her way – and it was a rollercoaster from the beginning to the end of her life – and, for the most part, dealt with it with a stoicism that is quite remarkable.

The leadership – or lack of it – lessons abound in this book. And Svetlana’s life – as well as the detailed descriptions of Russian life in general and Russian lives specifically in Stalin’s family and associates – puts the results (which lasts beyond the grave) of unquintessential leadership under the microscope.

It’s an education we can’t afford to miss.

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Too often people, whether they are in leadership positions or not, refuse to be accountable and take responsibility for their lives, their actions, and their words. We live in a society that encourages and enables blaming everyone and everything else for issues, problems, and mistakes in our lives. This behavior (trait) is called the blame game. Its presence can be seen pervasively everywhere – globally, organizationally, and personally – we look around us.

When people in leadership positions (and this is increasingly the rule rather than the exception) resort to the blame game, the results can be devastating, destructive, and even fatal (I am working on an upcoming post about the past and present unquintessential leadership at General Motors that includes the blame game as one component). malaysian airlines MH17 attack Ukraine unquintessential leadership

The blame game involves a complex web of lies those who employ it tell themselves. While we won’t discuss all the lies involved, we will discuss the two that seem to weigh the most heavily in the blame game.

The first lie is that we are passive victims of our circumstances and we have no power over changing them. As we discussed in “Quintessential Leadership Practically Applied: If Things Aren’t Working, Then Change Them,” none of us are passive observers and participants in our lives.

Each of us has the ability and the responsibility to take action when issues, problems, and mistakes occur. That is the accountability trait of building trust and being trustworthy.

The second lie is that our actions (or words) are the result of others’ actions (words (i.e., “if they didn’t do/say that, I wouldn’t be doing/saying this”). This is the ultimate cop-out. Our actions and words should never be based on what others do and say or don’t do and say. They should instead be based on our core: character, integrity, and principles that are absolute, moral, and right, no matter what.

To see a current example of the unquintessential leader trait of the blame game, we need to look no further than Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to the surface-to-air missile attack yesterday (July 17, 2014) on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine that resulted in the death of all 295 passengers and crew members on the plane:

Russian President Vladimir Putin“Undoubtedly, the government in whose air space this happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy” and “this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace in this land, or in any case, if [Kiev] had not renewed hostilities in south-eastern Ukraine.”

Essentially, President Putin is blaming the Ukrainians who want to maintain their independence from Russian for the attack and deaths of MH17’s passengers and crew.

But the reason there is no peace in Ukraine is because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, aided by pro-Russian Ukrainians, forcing independent Ukrainians to protect their land and their independence.

In other words, there would be peace (as relative as the term “peace” is on a planet that is strongly disposed to war at the slightest provocation) in Ukraine if the Russians had not broken the peace.

Additionally, data and research into the missile attack has revealed that the missile was provided by the Russians to the pro-Russian Ukranians who launched the attack. While the attack was happening, the pro-Russian Ukranians were in contact with the Russian military (there have been several other downed flights in that air space this past week, but none of the other planes were civilian) and had their approval.

So instead of President Putin manning up (the blame game is a coward’s game) and taking responsibility for the attack (in terms of war, it was a mistake, because they had no way of knowing whether they were attacking a military plane or a civilian plane), he shows his unquintessential leadership by putting all the blame on the Ukrainians who were forced into fighting for their independence by President Putin’s and the Russian military’s action against Ukraine earliest this year.

So, the question for us, fellow quintessential leaders, is are we consistently accountable and take responsibility for the issues, problems, and mistakes in our lives (and that sometimes we alone cause and make), or do we, if not all the time, from time to time, exhibit the unquintessential leader trait of playing the blame game?

How are we doing?