S6 Ep 11: Leader Analysis Series

Pahlavi - The Last Shah of Iran

During this Leader Analysis Series, Trent and Bram will be pulling apart leadership styles through history and attributing them with a score for different areas of leadership. By doing this, they hope to find skills and attributes that modern leaders may, or may not want to emulate.

This week on the WarriorU Podcast, they dissect Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Due to his status as the last Shah, or King, of Iran, he is often known simply as, The Shah. He was born on the 26th of October 1919 in Tehran. The Shah, started as a soldier and rose to command the Persian Cossack Brigade and was a Colonel by the commencement of World War One. His rule started in 1941 until his overthrow in the Iranian Revolution on the 11th of February 1979. Throughout his reign, aimed to achieve two broad goals – consolidate his personal power and Westernize Iran.

Leadership Analysis

Inspiration and Motivation – Score: 4/10

  • The Shah used his image of being a young, confident, wealthy and progressive to gain public support for his visions and bring political stability and reform to Iran.
  • Used vibrant celebrations of Iranian culture and history to inspire the people, while also being seen as a Westernised leader.
  • Had a personality of being timid, indecisive and hesitant was both a strength and a weakness.
  • Established the SAVAK, secret police, and had the Army be loyal to him personally in order to use coercion to force people to follow his vision.
  • Was able to nationalise the oil fields, creating a new economic flow of wealth into the country.

Providing Purpose and Direction – Score:  5/10

  • The Shah aimed, throughout his reign, to achieve two broad aims – consolidate his personal power and Westernize Iran.
  • In 1946 he sent the army to defeat separatist leaders in Persian Azerbaijan, leading to public popularity of the Shah increasing.
  • An assassination attempt on the Shah in 1949 was blamed on the Communist Party of Iran (Tudeh) and the Shah used this an opportunity to ban the party, who he saw as a political threat to his power.

Effectiveness of Leadership Style – Score:  4/10

  • The Shah was an authoritarian autocrat, and had a dictator’s approach to leadership.
  • Introduced social reform which gave women the rights to vote, decreased the role of Islam in Iranian culture and promoted Western culture and customs.
  • Although being in power for a long time, his dictatorship wasn’t enough to sustain his rule and he wasn’t comfortable with responsibility nor the accountability that comes with being dictator.

Enduring Legacy – Score: 4/10

  • The downfall of the Shah and ushering in of the Islamic Republic saw all of the Shah’s reforms reversed and conservative Islamic social laws introduced – many of which still continue today.
  • The Shah’s legacy is highly contestable – some hold him and his leadership’s accomplishments in high regard and still follow these ideals now, however the Iranian state has effectively criminalised any adoration of the Shah and his ideas, and many also see him as a weak and ineffectual leader, and his lasting impact in Iran is heavily suppressed.

How it ended for them – Score: 0/10

  • The Shah’s indecisive leadership and increasing unpopularity amongst all social classes of Iran saw him flee Iran in the face of a popular and increasingly violent revolution aimed at overthrowing him and all of his Western initiatives.
  • He died in 1980, from cancer, in Egypt.

Overall Leadership Summary – Score: 18/ 50

The Shah’s ability to pursue his goals of consolidating power, modernising and westernizing Iran was able to occur through the inspiration and motivation he was able to utilise through his centralization of power, coercion through SAVAK/Army, and pandering to social groups in order to pursue his vision for Iran, which was achieved successfully for much of his reign.

However, his personal weakness and indecisiveness which was amplified by the centralization of power under him saw him lack decisive action when faced with crises, causing him to lose all support from the social groups who had effectively propped up his leadership and eventuating in his overthrow and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

His life ended with him dying of cancer in exile whilst all of his reforms and impact on Iran was erased by the new regime. The Shah’s weak leadership of the institutions which he used to protect his position of influence, caused all Iranians to turn against him, overthrow him and erase his legacy.

Tweetable Quotes:

“Pahlavi’s indecisions became a lot of the worlds decisions.” – Bram

Resources Mentioned:

WarriorU Podcast

Hindsight Leadership and Resilience


Podcast Produced by Pretty Podcasts


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