Leadership: Discovering Clarity Amidst the Clutter

Dr. Bill Robinson

Our world is becoming more complex and the future more uncertain. Facing this can be paralyzing and lead to despair. Yet, leadership can be a cure. Leadership rekindles hope. Leadership helps others rise with greater wisdom after they fall (and we all fall). Leadership provides clarity amidst the clutter and confusion.

This last is vitally important. The din of our world can become deafening. We are constantly distracted by daily demands, social media, and paralyzing anxiety. Our ability to hear the call of sacred service and respond authentically and with clarity has been greatly diminished. Yet, doing so is essential to healing our broken hearts and our shattered world. Analysis and argument can be useful at times, though they often add to the din. It is through the power of story that leaders can truly inspire, guide, and sustain others.

Leaders inspire through telling their own stories of overcoming adversity or achieving their goals after a long struggle, offering guidance by example. Leaders inspire by telling the stories of other exemplary people, whose everyday kindness rekindles hope. Leaders inspire by sharing our traditional stories, of Jacob or Esther, providing us with sustenance for the long journey. The power of these stories comes from shifting people’s attention toward what really matters, building a sense of commonality among listeners, and highlighting the ever-present possibilities for making a difference. They make a complex and uncertain world seem less so, and the answer to the call of service clear – Hineini!

How does one become a teller of stories? First, become a collector of others’ stories – people you know and writers you admire. Then practice telling stories and seeking feedback. Third, give yourself permission to write your own stories. Start by jotting down daily events and dreams and wonderings you have.

And, what makes for a good story?

· Acknowledge the complexity but keep it simple.

· Honor the past but look to the future.

· Recognize the challenges ahead but be optimistic.

Most importantly, connect to your audience’s core values and show that the desired future depends on them rising up to action.

There’s also the “power of three.” The human brain remembers patterns and three is the smallest pattern. Your story could have three acts, or three simple steps people can take, or repeats the same events (with slight differences) three times.

Finally, make use of our traditional stories. Jews have told stories for millennia to inspire, guide, and sustain us. We tell of Esther’s courage every Purim, the exodus from Egypt every Pesach, and Ruth’s commitment every Shavuot. More recently, we have told stories of the Holocaust

the moral of which is often “Don’t give Hitler a posthumous victory.” We have told stories of Jewish Peoplehood in the face of Israel’s travails, declaring “We are One.” And, there are the day-to-day stories we tell of overcoming illness, of shared pride, of compassion for those in need. We see our world through the lens of our common stories.

Yet, these traditional stories don’t resonate as well as they once did, especially with the younger generations. The way we tell them doesn’t speak to their universal values and to the global challenges we all face. They don’t sufficiently capture the moral complexity of our world and the uncertainty we feel about the future. Tragically, we are lacking stories that resonate just when we need them most.

It is up to all of us to find more inspiring ways to keep telling the traditional stories, as there is still power in these old tales. It is up to all of us to truly hear the personal stories of others, learning what really matters to them. And, it is up to all of us to discover and share new stories. In so doing, we will renew our common bonds, rekindle hope, and inspire action toward a better future.

For those fantasy nerds who loved Lord of the Rings… It was Gandalf’s ring, Narya, that helped him to overcome in others the weariness of time and inspire them to great deeds. For us, it was reading J.R.R. Tolkein’s story of wizards and elves, and simple Hobbits who overcome impossible odds and achieved what no others could have. Writing during the horrors of World War I, Tolkein’s story offered moral clarity amidst the complexity of the world and the uncertainty of its future. It continues to inspire today for its simple belief in the goodness of humans working together despite their differences for the betterment of all.

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