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28 July 2012
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Facelift | Tyranny, Synchronicity and Evolution

There may have been one or two fallow months recently for the Bookclub, but we can now offer you a plentiful early harvest of low-hanging fruits after a cosmetic overhaul of the Bookclub section of the FMLM website, for which we must thank the FMLM office and our web design partners, Manta Ray Media. We have been extremely fortunate to have Veronica Wilkie review Clinical Leadership: Bridging the Divide with us, and are likewise graced by Jag Dhaliwal, who is just about to take us through Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People.

There are a number of new Bookclub features that you must check out: our new ‘Bookshelf’ facility allows you to peruse titles that we hope are of interest and relevance to FMLM members, while you can now catch up with the Book of the Month, previous reviews, interviews and the editor’s blog with far greater ease and satisfaction of interaction. You can also vote on how much you have enjoyed a particular book, from a sleep-inducing no ★s to a sleep-depriving ★★★★★ full house!

As time moves on and the Bookclub ripens, we remain keen to have new reviewers join our growing team and we are already thinking of 2013. Let us know through bookclub [at] if you want to review, interview, recommend a title for the Bookshelf, or have ideas for developing new Bookclub content.

Most of all, explore and enjoy the new site...

Tyranny, Synchronicity and Evolution

Having already considered leadership from the antithetic angle of the ‘antileader’, I was then drawn to towards how another adverse form of leadership has manifested in literature: the tyrant. 

It is sometimes forgotten that the original sense of the Classical Greek τυρρανος (tyrant) was not so pejorative. However, words, like ourselves, are entities quite capable of evolving. Coming from middle class uprising in the Greek city-states of the 7th and 6th century BC, tyrants were initially usurpers that moved against aristocratic ruling bodies, being contemporaneously heralded as leading transition between oligarchy and democratic rule. However, any provisional mandate to usurp soon became distorted by external threats to the state, its people and their interest. The interest of the city-state became eroded through self-interest in maintaining authority. Thus followed the definition of tyrant.

One usurper in particular evolved into his rule as a signature despotic leader. Towards the end of the 5th century BC, Dionysius I emerged from under the looming menace of Carthage to take autocratic control of Syracuse, building a military machine with the intention of expelling Carthaginian influence from the island of Sicily. Although initially elected to office, Dionysius ratcheted his control over the city-state and it’s environs that he enforced through ruthless mercenary rule, ultimately misdirecting his power against friends as well as foes.

It is the rise and fall of Dionysius I that is duly embellished by Alessandro Massimo Manfredi in his historical novel, Tyrant. While less captivating than his Alexander trilogy, in Tyrant Manfredi nonetheless manages to portray the visceral characteristics of personal and popular conflict involved in tyranny, confusing us with the seductive, darker aspects of power that are initially driven by good intention. He plays out the corruption of rule against a personal portrait of a leader who appears not to be whole-heartedly cruel, but certainly cruel enough (from patchy historical record, in the least) for Dante to have his body eternally awash in a river of boiling blood. The bewildering ancient Sicilian cities with their heady-fumed temples and opulent palaces seem much more than a paper fabrication, yet their modern-day ruin is an unforgiving comparison for the reader to contemplate.

The rise of the tyrant can be seen as a twist on a fundamental philosophical argument that has been long considered: that it is right to seek the greatest good for the greatest number. Muir Gray discusses this in an episode from his Concepts of Leadership Podcast series ( dictators run effective services?), in which he reveals an admiration for Karl Popper and a penchant for perusing phone books. At face value, the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ dresses as the perfect excuse to physically disengage authority, but it appears that, when combined with a sociopathic indifference in the figurehead of a movement, leadership can evolve through misguided self-interest into tyranny, all under the banner of ‘greater good’ for the people.

Can it simply be put down to a case of the right/wrong person in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time? While individuals might strive for power, there has to be coincidence, a synchronicity of events that culminate in the arrival of a tyrant. This is surely where the study of history is invaluable, through the examination of factors that allow such an occurrence. The literary exemplar of such historical accounts is Alan Bullock’s work Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, the first biographical work on Hitler and which has, at least in part, remained widely accepted. The tenet that Hitler was opportunistic and motivated by power is pushed by Bullock in a rapid and bullishly persuasive style, as rapid as 700-odd pages can be.  

Yet accounts of 20th century European dictators are so well placed with modern Western consciousness, that this seems too much like easy fare. I wanted to include a book in the new FMLM Bookshelf that stretched our imagination of tyranny a little further. As a result, I opted for a geographically and culturally distinct account: that of Shaka Zulu in Lessons On Leadership By Terror: Finding Shaka Zulu In The Attic by Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries, in which Shaka is used as a case example for the involvement of terror in leadership.

As I was pondering the value of including such historical accounts in the Bookshelf, I passed the shop front of Heffer’s in Cambridge (below–sic for the middle initial). Not only this, but the persisting egregious activity in Syria conflicting with the start of the Olympic Games in London hardly seemed to denounce the argument that tyranny is not part of the human condition. Synchronicity and evolution indeed...

 History quote

What other literary accounts of tyranny have you come across? What have they told you about the evolution of leadership? 

Books discussed:

Tyrant by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Pan (2006) ISBN-13: 978-0330426541

Hitler: A Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock, 1st ed. Oldhams (1952), 2nd ed. Penguin Books (1962) ISBN-13: 978-0140135640

Lessons On Leadership By Terror: Finding Shaka Zulu In The Attic by Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd (2004) ISBN-13: 978-1843769330

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About the author

Tom Turmezei's picture

Tom Turmezei

Tom completed his training in radiology with a musculoskeletal specialist interest in 2011, having worked as a Specialist Registrar in Norwich, Nottingham and Cambridge.  He then won a one year Evelyn Trust research fellowship to study imaging in hip osteoarthritis with the Cambridge Bone Research Group and is now in the second of a three-year Wellcome Trust research fellowship at the Department of Engineering in Cambridge, developing automated analysis of hip imaging data.  His long-term goal is to set up his own musculoskeletal imaging research group.  Cross-disciplinary research and training experiences at a number of hospitals have reinforced his belief that the NHS has much to learn from other professional cultures as well as those prospering within it.  

Tom is a medical writer, having co-authored previous editions of the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine and the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Specialties.  It was with this experience that he approached the FMLM with the concept of an online 'bookclub' to bring together ideas on leadership and management from diverse sources for the benefit of all those with a vested interest in the future of the NHS. Tom is now co-editor of the FMLM Bookclub (with Sam Byrne).


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