Posts Tagged 'Leadership'

Holding Leaders Accountable: Words Matter

In Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion, Moshe teaches the leaders of the tribes of Israel the laws governing the annulment of vows. I understanding the need these laws. We all make commitments that we cannot keep. As the saying goes, “A fellow who says he has never told a lie has just told one.” There in the parsha we read:

Moshe spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: This is what the Lord has commanded: If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips. ( Numbers 30:2-3)

While there is plenty one could say about the challenges of setting additional limitations for oneself, I am more interested in the value of words to create commitment and to set up a system of accountability. While all of Israel was told “do not render a false oath in My name and thereby desecrate it”(Leviticus 19,12), why does the leadership get a special communication here?

Rashi’s answer to this is simple. He write:

This does not mean that he spoke only to the princes of the children of Israel and not to the people also, but that he showed respect to the princes by teaching them first and that afterwards he taught the children of Israel. ( Rashi on Numbers 30:2)

It seems by design politicians tell people what they need to get into power. It is hard not to see that our leaders always need additional instruction when it comes to over-promising and under-delivering. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer and outspoken critic of the Soviet Union , said, “In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.” Here in the United States under our current alternative-facts administration we see that lying has again become a pillar of the State. Is this message in our Torah portion really about showing “respect to the princes”?

Our leaders need to know that words do matter. They routinely make oaths, create obligations, and make pledges, that other people need to pay for with their effort, money, or even their lives. Maybe the”respect to the princes” is that our leaders need to know that we are listening and watching. Our leaders need to know that ultimately they will be held accountable for their words, their deeds, and their leadership.

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Followership

When we think of leadership we often run to the image of Nachshon ben Aminadav. According to the Midrash, Nachshon initiated the splitting of the Red Sea by walking in head deep. Going it alone is clearly one style of leadership, but I think Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, offers us another important model for bringing about change. Here we see the twelve spies return to give their report about the Land. After ten give a negative report, we read, ” And Caleb stilled the people toward Moses, and said: ‘We should go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.'” ( Numbers 13:30) At this point the other spies shout Caleb down and instill a deep fear into the people. In response to this we read that:

And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Yefuneh, who were of them that spied out the land, rent their clothes. And they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then God will bring us into this land, and give it to us–a land which flows with milk and honey. Only rebel not against the Lord, neither fear you the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is removed from over them, and the Lord is with us; fear them not.’ But all the congregation bade stone them with stones, when the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting unto all the children of Israel.” ( Numbers 14: 6-10)

While it took a certain kind of bravery for Caleb and Nachshon to put themselves out there, it takes another kind of leadership to follow. Recently a colleague shared with me a wonderful video that highlights the importance of being the first follower. Please watch:

In another post I will explore this issue through the lens of the character of Yehudah who both Caleb and Nachshon are  decedents, but for now I want to end by saying that it is noteworthy that it is Joshua and not Caleb who goes on to succeed Moses as the leader of the people. There is what to learn from other styles of leadership. We need to move away from just talking about leadership and also start talking about the significance of followership.

For the Love of Meetings

At the outset of Vayakel Pekudey, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: “These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them” (Exodus 35:1)

Why does Moses have to assemble the people to deliver God’s message? Moses learned from Yitro his father-in-law at that there is at least one other to communicate to the masses. There we read:

And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him: ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people who is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone. Hearken now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God be with you: you should be for the people before God, and you should bring the causes to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover you shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Exodus 18:17- 21)

I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that we just spend too much of our time in meetings. Going from meeting to meeting can really wear you down. I  just wish that there were other more effective ways of getting groups of people to work together besides just having more meetings. So why did Moses need to assemble the people to deliver this message?

There is no doubt that there is a value to meetings. As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I feel invigorated and much more creative when in the presence of others. But I need to remember that just because we have a meeting it does not mean that people outside of that meeting will benefit. We always need to work on making meetings more efficient to maximize our impact on the world beyond the meeting. And yes that means we all need more action items and time to do those actions items.

 

Permission to Shine

In Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses ascending Sinai and getting the Ten Commandments. It is hard to imagine anything more inspiring than being on hand for Moses receiving the Torah. But, alas we see that this did not work for the Israelites. While Moses was up getting the Tablets, they grew impatient and made a Golden Calf for themselves. If the Israelites lost their passion and commitment so soon after experiencing the miracles of the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, and the victorious war with Amalek, how could we today have any hope of staying on mission?

After the resolution of the Golden Calf incident Moses returned to the people with a new set of Tablets. While the first set were made by God, this time Moses made them himself. In addition at the end of Torah portion we read:

33 And when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But when Moses went in before the Lord that God might speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and he came out; and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. 35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face sent forth beams; and Moses put the veil back upon his face, until he went in to speak with God.

This is the origin of the Michelangelo‘s depiction of Moses with horns of light. It is clearly also the source of why some people believed that Jews had horns. This is all secondary to the notion that this outpouring of light from Moses helped the Israelites see that their leader was inspired. We need our leaders to be inspired to be inspiring. There is something to the DIY ethos. We all need to have a sense of ownership in a project to be invested in its outcome. Where as in the first set of Tablets it was all about God, in the second set God had Moses and therefore the people’s buy-in.

Recently I was talking with Michael Wax an Assistant Director of Beber Camp about how he might inspire his staff to move the needle on what is an already a very good program at his camp. In my mind we need to find more ways to share our vision so that others share a sense of ownership. When we allow people to own their work they radiate their passion and joy. This attitude itself is infectious. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems, Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson. We read:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

Moses’s beaming face gave permission for the Israelites to let themselves shine too. It seems that if we really want to move the needle we need to figure out how to let ourselves and those around us shine.

– Also posted at FJC’s Campfire

Leading in Absence

With the close of VaYakel Pikkudei, this week’s Torah Portion, we read about the completion and consecration of the Tabernacle and conclude reading the book of Exodus. We read,

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:33-38)

Why does the book end with this image? What is the meaning behind Moses not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who was raised in the house of the Egyptians and then spends his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moses is homeless and caught between cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see the paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty, struggling in the galut, exile. But, it is in the exile itself that Moses is at home as a leader.

Here, at the end of Exodus, God periodically settles in their midst giving the Israelites a sense of what it will be like when they have a homeland and permanent residence for God in the Temple. Moses’s exile from the Tabernacle when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. The leader will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his mission. This points to a valuable lesson on the nature of leadership. It is the temptation of leaders to create systems around themselves that are completely dependent on them. Here it seems that Moses needs to be taught that  just the opposite is true. A good leader knows when to back off and let others take the lead.

Problem Solving

A recent report by Daniel H Pink revealed that employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems. Evidently people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves In his article we read:

Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.

There are a number of implications for this in terms of how we run our businesses and our lives. Obviously we need to find more diverse and interesting thought partners to help us to problem solving in our lives.

In Pinchas, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the seeming intractable issue of the Daughters of Zelophehad. Their father died in the desert leaving no male heirs. What are his daughters to do in terms of his inheritance? They bring their claim to Moses who in turn brings the matter to God. God is the most Other and the best at problem solving. In this sense God is the ultimate consultant or in this case Consultant. But where does that leave us in a world in which it is hard to relate to a personal God?

I think we can see an interesting model in this story itself. At the beginning of resolving the inheritance crisis we read:

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. ( Numbers 27:1)

Rashi draws our attention to the fact that they record them lineage all the way back to Joseph. Why not just stop with Manasseh? Rashi assumes that it is to teach us of their righteousness. As compared to the rest of the tribes, saying that the daughters of Zelophehad were of Joseph is to say that their investment in the land was in memory of Joseph who longed for his land or that they were one more generation removed from the land. Either way I think it is to teach us Daniel Pink’s message.

Pink teaches us that when partners aren’t an option, you need to establish distance for yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament. Whether it was their ability to work in the name of Joseph or the distance they can place between themselves and the issue, the daughters of Zelophehad teach us how to be better problem solvers. Thank you.

Transitional Leadership

With the close of this week’s Torah portion we read about the completion and consecration of the Tabernacle and conclude reading the book of Exodus. We read,

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud was present, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:33-38)

Why does the book end with this image? What is the meaning behind Moses not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

To understand these questions we need to look at the whole book of Exodus. The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who is raised in the house of the Egyptians. Moses spent his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moses is homeless and caught between many cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see a paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty. We struggle in the galut, exile,without a home. But, it is in the exile itself that Moses is at home as a leader.

In our portion, at the end of Exodus, God periodically settles in their midst giving the Israelites a sense of what it will be like when they have a homeland and permanent residence for God in the Temple. Moses’s exile from the tent of meeting when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moses, the leader, will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his/their mission. The text challenges our understanding of leadership. Leadership does not always mean being out in front. Good leaders know when to back off and let others take center stage. Moses is a leader in transition.


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