This week's learning and practice is dedicated by Ida Tugg in memory of her beloved husband, Ron (Rachmeel ben Shmuel v'Brucha), who passed away this week. May his neshama have an aliyah and may Ida and her family be comforted by all close to her and by our madrega community.
This week we begin a new middah, leadership (הנהגה – hanhaga), a trait for which traditional Torah texts don’t provide much guidance. Over the next two weeks we will explore this middah to look for personal experiences to share and Torah examples from which to draw.
In organizations, in community, or in our family or friend circles, our success as leaders is measured by the degree to which we master the external environment and produce results in the form of profits, community growth, family joy, safety and satisfaction. While external results are important, a focus solely on the external misses the core question: what is the inner essence of the middah of leadership?
Leadership is not simply something we do, it is driven from inside us. It comes from successful integration of our intellect and heart resulting in an intimate expression of who we are at our core. It’s our soul and body in action. At its deepest level, leadership is authentic self-expression that creates value. Leadership then, is more about being real than being right.
If you encounter an authentic leader, you will likely observe that person has a mature development in other character traits. Let’s look at two of those traits and see how they combine to create someone who stands out as a leader.
Moses is the greatest leader of our tradition and yet when we look at how he is described we see that he is anav me’od mikol ha’adam (Bamidbar/Numbers 12:3) – the most humble person of anyone. Our first and possibly most important trait in shaping leaders is humility. Moses, once he realizes, while in Egypt, that the Israelites are his people, has great compassion for the community. However, that isn’t enough for G-d to select him as leader. Later in our story, Moses sees a taskmaster beating an Israelite and comes to his aid. Moses comes down from his palatial position of superiority and expresses care and concern not only for the Israelites, but for a specific individual within the community. However, that still isn’t enough for G-d to assign Moses the role of leader. Finally, according to midrash, Moses carries a lamb to water since it won’t come and drink. Once G-d sees the humility of that act, it is clear that Moses is ready to be a leader, a true shepherd for G-d’s flock. A humble leader then asks “Who is serving whom?” The answer is that the leader is serving others and being served by others at the same time.
The second quality that makes a great leader is one who bears the burden of those they lead. In Hebrew, the middah is known as nosay b’ol im chavero. Bearing someone else’s burden requires a strong and open heart, however, the practical steps to pry one’s heart open as a leader is to develop authentic listening and speech.
Listening authentically is centered in the principle of reciprocity; to influence others, we must first be open to their influence. Authentic listening is about being generous — listening with a giving attitude that seeks to bring forth the best in someone. Likewise, authentic speech is about displaying outwardly what you hold dear inwardly, and displaying at the right time and in the right amounts so as to guide, support and inspire the community.
These two main qualities help shape a leader. In particular, with one of my Mussar groups we have been studying the teachings of the Alter of Kelm. His main thesis is that through bearing the burden of the other we come to draw closer to G-d. Through my personal work with this idea over the last three years I notice a deeper caring for my community. I have always found ways to push myself forward to a leadership role and put on programs, draw people out to participate and generally manage some form of community growth. I could also say the same at work where I managed teams for many years. However, this exploration of heart and mind integration with a view to bearing the burden of the other has helped me make a noticeable difference in my orientation to teams and community. I have made a small shift from management to leadership.
Practice: Identify one time in the next week where you can assume a leadership position (at home, work, play). Select one person that is part of the “team” and reflect on what burden they might be carrying into the situation. As you plan and make your leadership decisions be conscious of the burden the person might carry and see if that changes any of your decision making.
Question: A Chassidic Rebbe strives to empower his followers. He helps them grow to the point of identifying the source of, and solving their own problems without help. Do you have such an “inner leader” that encourages and supports you in making progress in your life? How strong is that “inner leader” and what do you do when it stumbles in its role?