Leadership - and what makes a good leader - has been on my mind for many years. I have seen members of the congregations I have served assume positions of responsibility and exhibit a wide variety of approaches to fulfilling their responsibilities. My hope is always that what will result from anyone’s leadership style is collaboration among members that creates a team spirit and a feeling of unity on many levels.
Every week, in synagogues around the world, the same section of the Torah (the first five books in the Bible) is read, explained and discussed. That means there is ample opportunity to focus on the figure of Moses as a leader of the Israelites. Recently, we read about the rebellion against Moses (and against his brother, Aaron) that was based on manufactured charges that gave Moses no credit whatsoever for his accomplishments. That passage in the book of Numbers sees the people accuse Moses and Aaron of being arrogant and out of touch. It was asserted that they portrayed only themselves as holy, when, according to the rebels, all the people were holy. In fact, these two brothers were dedicated to the people and doing the best they could to serve a large multitude of individuals with different needs. In modern terms, we could redefine the holiness of each person in reference to his or her intrinsic significance. Every person counted. In Jewish tradition, Moses was known for his humility, so he did value every individual. That made him a better leader.
There are aspects of Moses’s leadership from which we can learn today. We see and hear, at times, about too many leaders who believe that it is their mission only to amass power and influence, to impose their will rather than to create partnerships, and to stir up their followers in order to create an us/them framework where life is about conquest rather than compromise.
When I seek out a list of the characteristics of a good leader, I usually turn to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s classic summaries of leadership traits based on her studies of presidents from our nation’s past. She has noted that successful leaders are good-natured and learn from failure by being humble and persistent so that they can stand up and try again. Successful leaders surround themselves with people who agree with them and people who may not agree with them in order toarrive at the best decision possible, based on a variety of opinions. Leaders who are successful inspire those working for them and with them to do their best. They are able to relax and to replenish their energy. Successful leaders can cool down and control their emotions. Leaders are at their best when they learn how to speak to people so that they will listen and feel inspired in a way that creates unity among them rather than division.
Hopefully, we see around us leaders who are able to sow seeds of understanding and cooperation, who can seek out the truth and hold up the importance of personal integrity. Sometimes, the ones who live by the highest values, the true heroes, come from among the rank and file of a society. These are special individuals who are more concerned about doing good than about gaining power.