1. Serve the people, not yourself: You can only push the people so far and for so long. Mugabe reigned in terror over his country – silencing opposition, destroying the economy, unleashing random violence, and sending millions into exile. He ruled in a cocoon of power and luxury while Zimbabwe fell apart all around him. Finally, the people fought back.
2. Don’t be a sore loser: As the sage, Kenny Rogers said, “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold them…” Mugabe stayed in power long after his “best by” date. When the people no longer want you as their leader, it’s time to move on. He himself said before the 2008 elections, “If you lose an election and are rejected by the people, it is time to leave politics.” But he did not leave. He had to be booted out. The bedrock of democracy is the people’s prerogative to choose their leader. Respect that.
3. Don’t manipulate your succession: while the best leaders train others to take their place when they leave, it is poor leadership to manipulate your succession. And replacing a constitutional successor with your wife, is not the thing.
4. Don’t surround yourself with Yes-men. If you cannot handle the truth, no one will tell you especially if telling it is a risk to their lives. Mugabe made it difficult for anyone to object even in the mildest ways, to his edicts. Arguably, this flaw led to disastrous political, economic, and social decisions that ran the country to the ground.
5. Don’t circumvent the law: Even the best fortresses crumble. Mugabe, who had long manipulated the security forces to reinforce his power, experienced a backlash of those same forces which instigated his resignation.
6. Leave, while the applause is loudest: Like Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, Robert Mugabe enjoyed the honor bestowed on “fathers of the nation.” But, rather than leave while he could be fondly remembered as a war hero who brought an end to white-minority rule and independence to Zimbabwe, he hung on till the disgrace of a coerced resignation.