A 2005 Harvard University study of confidence in leadership found that almost two-thirds of Americans think we are suffering from a leadership crisis. The study’s respondents showed little confidence in the honesty, integrity and ethics of leaders in sectors ranging from business and religion to local, state and federal government. They also showed little faith in our leaders’ knowledge, skills and ability to inspire loyalty and enthusiasm among followers.
How can this be possible given the increased prominence of leadership topics in our culture today and the proliferation of leadership training in organizations and educational institutions? One possible answer is that we are ignoring what really constitutes leadership. We may have focused too much attention on issues of style, while ignoring issues of substance – character and virtue.
Do We Really Need Leaders?
At some point in our lives, we have all had a relationship with someone – a parent, a teacher, or an employer perhaps – who greatly changed the way we looked at life and the world. Someone who inspired and motivated us. Someone who taught us to set goals and instilled in us the confidence and spirit to achieve them. Such a person is a true leader.
Today, we are surrounded by people we may call leaders – in government, in business, in education, in the arts. But in truth, we are suffering from a scarcity of genuine leadership. Where are these people really leading us, and why?
After witnessing so much deceit and such frequent abuse of power, many people have ceased trusting their leaders. Still, no matter how cynical we may grow, we resign ourselves to the fact that we need someone to keep our various houses in order. Since we are so preoccupied with our own lives, we are willing to elect or appoint officials to manage the affairs of the land.
But is a leader merely a manager? What should we expect from our leaders? And do we really need leaders in the first place? The answer is yes, we do need leaders. We need guidance in our lives. On our own, we lack the vision, direction and strength to reach our goals. As adults, with the capacity to reason for ourselves, most of us are so overwhelmed by the pressures of daily survival, we rarely find the time and energy to focus on life’s larger issues. And when we do, our emotions and inherent subjectivity limit our vision and constrict our movement.
Torah leadership provides a new perspective, inspiring us to expand our narrow field of vision. When we are preoccupied with our self interests – be they petty or great – a leader sends out a wake-up call, alerting us to seek the true priorities in life.
A sense of urgency is just as important in a leader as a sense of vision. Leadership today is sorely lacking the quality of urgency. Many of our leaders are effective managers, and some are even inspirational. We have CEOs who can direct thousands of employees toward a single objective, and politicians whose rhetoric inspires millions of citizens to support them.
What these leaders don’t provide is simple – and essential: a vision for life itself. Genuine leadership must give people a long-term vision that imbues their lives with meaning; it must point them in a new direction and show how their every action is an indispensable part of a purposeful whole. It is not enough for our leaders to teach us to be productive or efficient. They need to inspire us to change or improve the world in a productive, meaningful way. And this creates a compelling sense of urgency: to fulfill this vision of life.
In our secular society, we tend to think of a leader as a person who is well connected, powerful, charismatic, or wealthy. We judge our leaders by what they have. But a true leader should be judged by what he has not – ego, arrogance and self-interest. A true leader sees his work as a selfless service toward a higher purpose. Leadership is not power and dominance, it is servitude. This does not mean that a leader is weak, for he derives great strength from his dedication to a purpose that is greater than himself.
Five Core Leadership Skills
|The ability to formulate ideas, to understand opportunities or the need for change, to create a mental picture of the future, and to articulate all of that clearly in words and images.
|The ability to see what’s important, to understand the available choices, and to make sound, practical decisions – discrimination is free form decision-making rather than rule-based decision-making. It’s knowing what questions to ask and being able to answer them in the absence of rules or previous experience.
|The ability to see the “big picture” and devise an effective path – the “right actions” – which will lead to realizing the vision.
|The determination and energy to follow through and make the vision a reality even in the face of obstacles, opposition, uncertainty, and risk.
|The ability to communicate the vision and the strategy, and also to infuse people with enthusiasm, dedication and some of the leader’s own spirit.