Vladimir Putin... The Would-Be Renaissance Man

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 05/30/2009 - 4:04pm.

He's been a KGB spy and judo black belt; a painter whose work fetched top dollar at auction and a bare-chested fisherman in Siberian rivers. He has been president and prime minister, and in both jobs Russians have regarded him as being at the apex of power.

But Vladimir Putin, the would-be Renaissance man with the familiar black turtlenecks and cold gazes, never seems to tire of surprising his countrymen.

This week, Putin the magazine columnist weighed in with a timely meditation on management and change.

His maiden column, titled "Why You Can't Fire a Person," hits newsstands in today's issue of Russian Pioneer. But the bulk of the text leaked early and created a buzz in Moscow. Peppered with earthy folk sayings, Putin's first-person essay is part management consulting, part personal reflection -- and part lecture to the nation on virtue and vice in the often-coarse culture of the Russian workplace.

"I'm deeply convinced that constant change is not for the better. Neither for business, nor for people," Putin writes. "In the end, it will be the same thing as before, if not worse."

Is Putin hinting at a hidden soft spot? Or is he merely giving a nod to stability, which many Russians list as a key virtue of his leadership?

Either way, it's a telling message from a man who managed to relinquish Russia's top office while keeping a grip on authority. When term limits forced him out as president, Putin ushered in a longtime underling as his replacement and eased himself into the prime minister's office -- where many believe he still is calling the shots.

It was not the maneuver of a modest man, and Putin's column bears out his image as a man of scant humility.

"I can say honestly that if I hadn't intervened in some situations when I worked as president, Russia would long ago have had no government," he writes.

Why Russia's mercurial prime minister chose this moment to debut as a print columnist is anybody's guess. His essay boosts the profile of Russian Pioneer, a new, glossy magazine that eschews politics in favor of lifestyle and trend pieces.

"Every word he pronounces is interesting to people," said Andrei Kolesnikov, editor of the magazine, who said he was basking in the "splash" of Putin's column.

Before launching the magazine, Kolesnikov was a longtime Kremlin correspondent for Kommersant newspaper. As a professional observer of the court intrigues surrounding Putin, he says, he became fascinated with the former president's seeming inability to fire people. Instead, his rivals usually entered a drawn-out descent, "although everybody knew they were doomed."

"I realized this problem of how to fire people is torturing Vladimir Putin," Kolesnikov said Thursday. And so, as he lined up contributors for his new magazine, he pitched the idea to the prime minister.

"He responded very quickly and the result was very positive," Kolesnikov said. "I can't tell you why he agreed, and I didn't ask him. I think that, in reality, he was interested in the topic. Obviously, he wants his motives to be more understandable to the public at large."

The public relations scene around Putin has always been colorful. There was the legendary time in the forests of the Far East, much reported in state news media, when Putin grabbed a gun and fired a tranquilizing dart into a lunging Siberian tiger, reportedly saving the life of a Russian television crew.

Last fall, Putin released a DVD called "Let's Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin."

In his column, Putin continues to instruct Russians, giving bosses a peek into his style of management. He gripes about the time it takes for new employees to get their bearings, and warns against getting tricked by politically motivated complaints from back-stabbing colleagues.

"In no case should a person be smeared behind his back, fired, kicked out, just because somebody told you something about him," Putin writes.

But if a dismissal is in order, the prime minister continues, it should be done face to face. "In contrast to former Soviet leaders, I always do it myself," he writes. "I usually call a person into my office and tell them directly, there are concrete complaints. If you think it's wrong, that it does not correspond to reality, then please, you may fight against it, defend yourself."

Nor, Putin adds, should a boss forget the personal touches.

"Even if I am busy, when I come to my office and there's a note that says somebody has called, even if I have only five minutes to spare, I call back," Putin writes. "I know that to call somebody on his birthday and wish him a happy birthday when he is surrounded by his family means to leave a trace in his soul."

And, oh yes -- one more word of advice from the prime minister: God is watching.

"The main thing for any leader, at any level, is to remember that a responsibility lies with him which he cannot just hand off to somebody else and relax. Never should you try to run away from resolving a problem, indulge in ignorance or assume that God is sleeping."

Megan Stack - May 29, 2009 - source ChicagoTribune

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sat, 05/30/2009 - 4:04pm.