Garry Kasparov on the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev

August 31, 2022

Mikhail Gorbachev who died August 30, 2022 presided over the break up of the Soviet Union, with the subsequent  monumental political changes in Europe over the last thirty years. As such, his life deserves the attention it is receiving.

His obituaries at the west are glowing, a reformer who brought freedom to a continent. 

Boris Johnson, in one of his briefer and more thoughtful comments, noted that Gorbachev changed the world for the better and  paid the price in his own career.

In Russia, many still see him as an instigator of changes that have reduced Soviet power, and indirectly led to the thinking that resulted in today’s conflict in Ukraine 

One of his best-informed critics is Garry Kasparov, one of Russia’s most famous emigrés, advisor to American presidents, and ranked among the greatest chess players of all time. Kasparov has emerged as an influential critic of the political path followed by his country of birth,

His immediate reaction to Gorbachev’s life is to tweet a passage from his book, Winter is Coming, adding that he will comment soon, but the cited paragraph still sums up his thoughts, namely that Gorbachev was obliged to embark on perestroika (restructuring of reform) as a last gasp to save the USSR and socialism. Gorbachev became an accidental hero in the West for failing.

Reflections on creativity and leadership

Creativity is sometimes described as an interaction between the person, the product, process and environmental conditions.

Leadership, an equally complex topic is also better when an assessment accepts the interactions between the person, the products (achievements, good and bad), the process (political reform or peristroika, and the context, broadly the Cold War conditions of the time),

The circumstances leading to the rise of Gorbachev saw before him the rise of tyrannical leaders preserving near absolute powers, and subsequently to the emergence of Vladimir Putin. In my writings about leaders we deserve, I argue that leadership as a process is always shaped by prevailing circumstances.

Western style democracies can hardly claim a more successful process producing effective leaders. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are recent examples, demonstrating the malign outcomes of the leaders we vote into office.