Thursday, October 25, 2007


It appears I misheard President Joel (thanks to my friend for correcting me!) and even better, when I checked my notes, I see that he actually said "A leader is someone who takes responsiblity" and then went into the Sarah as a Matriarch example, the three blessings she brought to the house, and the different forms of leadership. So that's completely my fault and I'm sorry for suggesting that he said a leader is only someone who takes responsibility, because that was my own misconstruing of what he said.

I think what defines a leader is not only his sense of vision but his actions to bring about that vision. This is something that I had to learn, and it's something my friend used to say to me quite frequently, namely, "Stop whining." If you don't like something, if you feel that something is wrong- complaining about it isn't the way to go. You have to figure out how to change it. And you have to use whatever tools are at your disposal. If you're a college student, perhaps you use publications and the college newspaper, because those are the tools you have at your disposal. Perhaps you're involved in a club on-campus that allows you a venue for your voice. Whatever it is you do, you act. You practice what you preach. You are a role model and an example.

A leader is someone who takes charge of a situation. If something untenable is going on, if there is a disorganized mass of people in front of you, a leader is someone who is able to organize them and get them under control, usually on account of his charismatic personality and whatever skills he has going for them (perhaps his eloquence, perhaps his honesty, his character...whatever he has, he uses it to the best effect.) A leader is someone whom others look up to, rightly or wrongly. They idolize him, worship him, believe in the power of the vision which he espouses, the pictures he paints of the world that could be. Who was Hitler? A brilliant leader. His candlelit parades, his fiercely eloquent speeches all painted a picture of the way the world could be, revived dying German nationalism and gave all those people a specific way in which they could act in order to bring about this redemption and implement his vision of the world. So a leader also assigns parts, gives out roles. It is his job to make his followers feel important, make them feel like they are giving back- to him, to his country, it doesn't matter to whom. It is his job for his followers to either fall in love with him or fear him.

A leader has excellent interpersonal skills. He gets on very well with people, often because he has the ability to be charming. When he looks at a person, the person feels like he has been validated and his existence is a necessary one. The leader is an excellent manipulator. He is able to arrange people and play with them, using each one for their specific skills and the way they can add to the cause, the way they can help him implement his vision for the world. He is often able to do this in such a way that the people think they volunteered themselves and their skills on their own and don't even realize they are being manipulated.

It is my personal belief that a leader, if he is a good one, hates many of the things he has to do and dislikes the fact that so many people depend upon him. He does not like tricking people, misleading them, making decisions for them. At the same time he knows that if he does not do this, someone else will come along to replace him, and perhaps they will not have the same good intentions. Better he than they. It is also my belief that leaders don't necessarily strive for power. They are appointed by others; people flock to them without their asking. People assume that they can fix things; they tell over their problems and assume the leader has the answers.

Adina Schwartz recently wrote an article in which she claimed that her English teacher was a leader. You will forgive me, because I do not know the English teacher in question, but I highly doubt that she would qualify as a leader in the sense of the word in which I mean it. It needs to be understood that simply because you wish to praise a person does not mean you can give them qualities they do not possess (unless you are doing this deliberately and for a very specific purpose.) A teacher may be an excellent teacher. She may be nurturing, a true guide and educator, someone who helps her students grow. But the classroom setting does not allow for the teacher to be a leader, since she is not implementing her sense of vision. It is precisely in the classroom that a teacher must be most attuned to her students and to what they wish to say, to their points of view and help them to grow. Here she is neither leading nor following; here she is guiding. This is yet a different skill.

It is also very important to distinguish between someone in a leadership position as opposed to someone who is truly a leader. This is something that was made very clear to me in Templars. Simply because someone is in a leadership position, whether they be a Rabbi, a Principal or the leader of a community or presidential board...does not make them a leader. There are many unfit and incompetent people placed in these positions, people who do not have the requisite interpersonal skills, have no understanding of how to smoothly interact with, placate, run and negotiate with others. The title does not make the leader. A true leader knows he is a leader and does not need anyone else to tell him so. He knows because, or at least this is what I believe, he would give anything not to be in this position- at least until he accepts it is inevitable and then decides to run with it.

Why would people not wish to be leaders? Because not everything is about glory, honor, prestige and winning. The people who are still pursuing these fleeting dreams are often not the ones who deserve them. People who are truly leaders understand the kind of position they have acquired. It is one where they must be very careful of their followers' feelings, where their every action counts, where their words take on meanings they did not intend and they are expected to be attentive, considerate and aware every moment of the day. Rightly or wrongly, they are suddenly made responsible for many of their followers' problems and assigned "Fix-It" status. The leader is supposed to know how to fix all situations. People trust him and assuming he is a good person- and not someone simply aiming for a political reality that involves abusing that trust- that scares him to death. Who wants to deal with other people's trust? Who wants to worry about their ability to hurt other people? Nobody needs this. But that's how it goes.

So you can fight it and claim you aren't a leader and that nobody ought to follow you, you don't want people to listen to you, you don't want them to respect you; you wish that they would all go away and leave you alone. You can do all this but deep down you know that it doesn't matter and that you cannot deny what you are. The only thing you can do is accept that this is your nature and your personality and move on from there. In this case, it is now upon you to do the best with all the qualities and techniques you have been given and to make sure that you implement your vision successfully.

Are leaders born or are they made? I'm conflicted on this issue. I used to think that leaders were born, that they had certain latent abilities that simply showed themselves as they grew older. But I am beginning to think that leaders are made, that certain situations forge leaders, just as metal must be tempered by fire. Leaders are inevitably people who have undergone some soul-changing experience, who have lived lives that allow them to connect with the people around them, that have most importantly given them the sense that there is something wrong that needs to be fixed and that there is no one who can do it but them. Leaders are people of vision and in order to be a visionary you must believe firstly, that there is a better future and a better way, and secondly, that there is a method in which you can truly actualize and implement this better future. Leaders are people who deeply believe in what they stand for, who embody it in their actions, who figure out ways to accomplish their goals and who sweep people up in their goals simply by the force of their personality and presence.

I do not know many leaders. I can count the number of leaders I know on one hand. I know many good people; I know excellent speakers, guides, teachers, students, friends. But I do not think they are all leaders and I think the assumption that leadership can be taught or somehow acquired is ludicrous. There are certain people who rise to certain challenges and others who inevitably fail. All you can do is expose people to these situations and see how things work themselves out. But to suggest that there is some program you can undergo and that will immediately transform you into a leader? Impossible. That having been said, there are certainly workshops that can develop one's leadership skills, that can help a person become more secure and confident in the areas of public speaking, writing and so on and so forth. This hardly makes the person a leader, however.

A leader has a vision, a clear goal, a group of people who wish to help him (often without any tangible reward) and a process for getting to his goal. One cannot simply set himself up as a leader, stand on 5th Avenue garbed in white and boom out "I am a leader! Follow me." He is appointed as leader, chosen by the people. It is they who see him and watch him demonstrate integrity, who judge him and decide he is worthy of being followed. History and opportunity may determine how successful he will be. But overall, a leader is someone who was born with certain natural abilities that lie latent until he is tested (either because of the historical/ social situation of the time or something more personal), at which time these abilities emerge, are sharpened and honed. Given the proper opportunity, this person will then become significant in terms of his community or the world at large.

A leader is far more than a person who accepts responsibility. As adults, we all must accept responsibility- the only variant is the degree of responsibility we accept. A leader is chosen. He is chosen because he has been tested, has survived his test and developed his natural abilities, has been given the appropriate opportunity and now is in a position to implement his vision of the world.

I have never desired to be a leader- there is nothing in the world that could be scarier than being a leader. To make decisions for people? To have others look up to you, desire to follow you? To have to figure out a way to implement your vision of the world- and to have others willing to follow you? Who wants to have to deal with all this?

But sometimes it is as Dumbledore says, "It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. "

The important thing for everyone to understand is that being a leader is not something to be prized. It is not a glorious, wonderful, exciting occupation. It is not something that people generally want to do. It is a situation which is stressful, upsetting, worrisome, in the most extreme situations, a job which takes years off your life. Generally, one does not choose to become a leader. One is appointed as leader. It is thrust upon you; you are forced to respond to the call of others. And you will, because you care about other people. But it isn't this lackadaisical "Let me put this on my resume- I'm a student leader!" position that people seem to think. No, it is one of the most serious positions one can hold- where one's every action counts and one must measure one's every word. There is a reason that Moses fought with God and did not wish to become a leader.


Ezzie said...

Too lazy to read the whole thing (cough), but... I think you're wrong on the surface at least.

A leader can be one of many things; it depends on the field and the situation. You're thinking of the "rara" leaders, which is nice, but that's not all there is. I particularly enjoyed Adina Schwartz's piece and agreed with almost all of it.

Joel is right and wrong. He's wrong that that's "all you need" to be a leader, if that's what he said; but if there is one single characteristic among all the different types of leaders, I think that may be it. Certainly, without it, one cannot be a true leader.

Anonymous said...

Nu, so why did he kill the cow?

I don't really agree with the rest of what you've written, but I don't have time to work out why. But if I don't find out about that cow, it's going to bug me for days.

Chana said...

Because otherwise it was the old woman who would have had to die.

G said...

So, what did he respond :-)

Erachet said...

I happen to know the English professor Adina was referring to and she was most definitely a leader. She and I used to have talks about criticisms of the school and she would always encourage me to do something about it, because she said that she, as a professor, did not have power the same way the students do when it comes to making changes around the school. I think she also inspired and really changed a lot of her students for the better, and, in my eyes, that's definitely a leadership quality right there.

I think that what you are talking about is one specific sort of leader. Leadership comes in many, many different forms.

Anonymous said...

This whole post sounds as if you have someone in mind who you view as a leader (probably some family member or something), and your description of a leader is simply a description of the way you view this person. Its very narrow to say the least.

Ezzie is correct that there are many types of leaders, including, low key, quiet and even socially awkward leaders, who are all nonetheless very effective.

Chana said...

I agree that my definition is very narrow because I use different words to describe different people and the word leader in my mind connects to a very specific type of person; I would use a different word to describe the inspirational but socially awkward person.

MYG said...

See Horios, bottom of 10a and top of 10b, with Rashi.