The Secret to Leadership

Bill Robinson, PhD

The biggest challenge to becoming a good leader is yourself. The most vital resource you have to becoming a good leader is also yourself.

When you think of good leaders, who do you imagine?  Someone in a position of authority, like a President or CEO?  With a simple command, these people can order the movement of armies and direct legions of workers.  Or someone whose leadership did not come from holding a certain position, but from the way their inspired others?  

If you supervise others or chair a committee, or you’re a parent, you hold a position of authority and yet you lead not only by command.  Commandments often meet resistance or fall on deaf ears.  You influence others (including your children) through reasoning, modeling, storytelling, and empowering them to lead with you. 

The first principle of leadership is that anyone can lead, anytime, and from anywhere.  This is because leadership happens when we put aside whatever authority we may have.  Leadership is the ability to mobilize people to make a difference by working together, particularly when the correct course of action is uncertain. It involves carefully diagnosing the situation and intervening wisely.  Most importantly, it involves understanding the perceptions and motivations of those you need to mobilize, and then facilitating everyone working in concert. 

Like performing in a jazz combo, leadership can come from different players at different moments.  But, good leadership requires attuning yourself to the playing of the others and the courage to take risks. It also requires a discipline of self growth. Jazz players – as with other musicians, sports players, and yogis (among others) – are always practicing their craft by going back to the basic scales, routines, and positions.

So, what are the basics of leadership?  They are our virtues; what we call in Judaism our middot.  They are our ability to be compassionate, courageous, curious, and filled with gratitude and humility, among other middot. We become good leaders by nurturing and employing these basic virtues.

The good thing is that we need not go far to discover and develop them, as they are already within us.  The Jewish tradition teaches that we are all created in the divine image (b’tzelem Elohim).  This means, to quote a line from Torah, that (like God) we all have the capacity to be compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.” (Exodus 34:6)

We have this divine potential, but we need to cultivate it through a regular discipline of practice.  For instance, if you want to develop your curiosity, you need to practice asking questions and seeing the world as full of wonder. If you want to develop your capacity for gratitude, say a blessing every time you encounter something for which you are grateful.  See if you can reach 100 blessing a day! 

And, what often gets in our way of being good leaders?  It’s when we forget to show up using our middot.  Instead of being compassionate, we get frustrated.  Instead of being humble, we go into a meeting believing we know all the answers.

If we want to mobilize boards, professional teams, or just our family to make a difference, we need to begin by showing up with leadership (not authority). And, the secret to good leadership is leading with virtue (middot).

Na’aleh is here to help you develop your leadership.  For inspiring and practical advice on nurturing seven core middot, click here.

And join us at one of our upcoming programs:

EnLIGHTen Your Leadership During Hanukkah by Learning with Community Rabbis

Leadership Series for Lay-Professional Partners focusing on Community Organizing

Coming soon, Leadership Middot Conversations where you can discover how others are leading with virtue!

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