There can be no doubt that President Obama’s address last evening at the DNC transcended partisanship and articulated brilliantly the exceptionalism of the American experience. Republicans, Democrats and Independents were all moved by the President’s rhetorical skills and vision. Indeed, we may not see such an extraordinary Presidential address for another generation, which has lead me to reflect on what makes for a great leader.
Great leadership certainly requires a hefty measure of intelligence, clarity of vision and strong character, and it helps if the individual has great rhetorical skills. But, as Bill Clinton said the night before, giving speeches is the fun part. Great leadership requires something else – hard work day in and day out over time.
I offer here reflections from Jewish tradition and beyond on the theme of leadership:
“Rabban Gamaliel, in appointing two rabbis to posts of authority, said to them: You apparently suppose that I am about to bestow rulership upon you. What I am bestowing upon you is servitude, as it’s said, ‘And they spoke unto him, saying: If you will be servant until this people…’ (I Kings 12:7). The verse teaches you that the one who is appointed over a community becomes the servant of the community.” -Talmud Bavli, Horayot 10a-b; Yalkut Shimoni 1 Kings 197
“The ideal public leader is one who holds seven attributes: wisdom, humility, reverence, loathing of money, love of truth, love of humanity, and a good name.” –Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrin 2.7
“The best test [of a servant-leader] and difficult to administer is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” -R.K. Greenleaf – “Servant Leadership”
“Rabbi Eleazar said: Any leader who guides a community gently will merit guiding it in the world to come.” –Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 92a
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory and when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” -Nelson Mandela
“The boss drives his/her [employees]; the leader coaches them.
The boss depends upon authority, the leader on goodwill.
The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.
The boss says ‘I’; the leader, ‘we.’
The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
The boss says ‘Go’; the leader says ‘Let’s go!’ -Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr.
“Whether you are an insurance executive or a school principal, you simply cannot be effective without behaving in a morally purposeful way.” – Michael Fullan, Canadian educational researcher and former dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)
“The character and qualifications of the leader are reflected in the people s/he selects, develops and gathers around her/him. Show me the men/women and I will know their leader.” -Arthur W. Newcomb, writer and businessman
“Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm.” -Publilius Syrus, Roman author, 1st century B.C.E.
“The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.” –Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, 18th century
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” –President John Quincy Adams
“If you say something outside the consensus, you create enemies. The less you say, the less trouble. That is a basic political truism. But it is not the stuff great leaders are made of.” –Uri Avinery, Israeli political leader, journalist and activist
“You must be headlights and not tail-lights.” –Representative John Lewis, US Congress, Georgia
“Leadership is a passionate activity. It begins with a warm gratitude toward that which you have inherited and a fervent wish to steward it well. It is propelled by an ardent moral imagination, a vision of a good society that can’t be realized in one lifetime. It is informed by seasoned affections, a love of the way certain people concretely are and a desire to give all a chance to live at their highest level. This kind of leader is warm-blooded and leads with full humanity.” –David Brooks, NY Times columnist
“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” –Emanuel James “Jim” Rohen, American entrepreneur, author and speaker
“…American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs, and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” –President Barack Obama