Leadership through Story

Bill Robinson, Na’aleh Executive Director

We use stories to focus people’s attention on that which is important, to shift the way others think, to open their minds, to attune others to something deeper or greater, to inspire them. We do lead through marshalling our personal strengths, through listening to understand others, and by organizing groups. And, we lead through telling stories.

This is because at our most fundamental, humans are story-telling creatures, seeing the world through the lens of stories. Moreover, we are the stories we tell. We understand who we are through the stories that are told about us. We do the same for others.

As Jews, we seek self-understanding through the contemporary re-telling of our ancient stories. We read these stories to find ourselves, to be comforted or inspired, and to be guided. In the story of Moses, we find the humble leader who averts God’s anger against this stiff-necked people, who continuously disappoint him. We read the story of Esther, we discover the courageous leader who sacrifices the safety of her own comfortable position by exposing herself as a Jew to save her Jewish community. In the story of Ruth, we find the compassionate leader, who leaves her homeland to care for her mother-in-law and in the new land rediscovers love. In the story of Jacob, we find the trickster who is tricked, the blessed one who loses that which is dearest to him, and the father who only at the end of his life discovers gratitude and a willingness to serve God beyond his own self-interest.

Whose Biblical stories speaks to you?

At Na’aleh, the ideal of leadership is called Manhigut, leading with the whole self. It is the authentic leader whose head, heart, body and spirit are aligned. It is the one who leads with integrity, who is consistent of word and deed across their multiple roles in life. It is the leader who inspires others with the story of her leadership. And, it is the leader whose personal story is woven from the threads of Jewish stories, so that the values, purpose, and tropes of their leadership are deeply Jewish.

We cannot make sense of the world without the power of stories. We are uplifted and we are brought down through story. Stories are the wharf and woof of our days. There is no leadership, there is no life, without stories. As the literary scholar, Jonathan Gottschall, has said, “We are as a species addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

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