British leadership scholar Christopher Bones points out that leaders of modern organizations, particularly leaders of human resource departments, tend to blend notions of effective management and leadership without even realizing it. He cites a recent UK study on training needs that identified a series of problems related to leadership skills where the list of identified gaps included problems with people management, performance management, change management, strategic thinking, coaching and mentoring, communication/ interpersonal skills and innovation— “skill gaps,” which Bones stresses do not “address the fundamentals of leadership; all are skills we require in managers at just about every level of the organization.” Bones believes that “this reflects a muddle amongst HR people specifically and the wider management population generally.” Identifying leadership skills is, therefore, imperative to understanding how they differ from management skills. Certain managerial skills are useful for the leader, and vice versa, but the roles of leader and manager fundamentally differ.
The Leader and Transformational Leadership
American leadership scholar James MacGregor Burns outlines the implicit ideal of power and morality as crucial components of effective leadership but also articulates two key forms of leadership that a leader may possess, including his pioneering concept of “transformational leadership,” representing intellectual leaders who focus on ideas for moral power; reform leaders; revolutionary leaders; and heroic leaders, and “transactional leadership,” representing opinion leaders, group leaders, party leaders, legislative leaders and executive leaders.
In the contemporary business and political worlds, we might tend to focus more on the transactional leader, but, arguably, transformational leaders are profoundly important as they are likely to affect and influence the masses. However, each of these leadership types can be found in the effective leader, and both can certainly be identified in Moses’ model of leadership.
Whereas a transactional leader might be found leading smaller-scale changes due to the focus on “the basic, daily stuff of politics,” with modest change the result, transformational leadership is the leadership style of profound change— “revolutions that replace one structure of power with another.” After all, Moses succeeded as a transformational leader as he transformed the Israelites from slaves in Egypt into a functioning society in the wilderness. Transformational leadership also arguably reflects visionary leadership because focus on the “big picture,” the ability to inspire the masses toward achieving meaning within that big picture, is enhanced by the skills of the visionary.
Winston Churchill stressed in his 1931 article that Moses is among the preeminent figures in the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the history of Western civilization, Moses not only maintains a prominent position in the monotheistic tradition— particularly respected by adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam— but also stands as a figure of influence in secular life through his example as a leader of the ancient Israelites.
According to Jewish tradition, Moses is considered to be the greatest prophet. So significant is Moses to Judaism that, in his Thirteen Principles of Faith, the great Jewish philosopher, physician and rabbi Moses ben Maimon— popularly known as Maimonides, or by the Hebrew acronym Rambam— includes as the seventh fundamental principle that Moses was the greatest prophet who ever lived and that no other prophet could comprehend God better than Moses. A thousand years earlier, the ancient rabbis said, in the very first verse of Mishnah Pirkei Avot (a Mishnaic tractate known as “Sayings of the Fathers” or “Sages”), that Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, who passed it on to the Elders, who passed it on to the Prophets, and that the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly.
“This introductory sentence describes the chain of tradition leading up to the sayings in Avot,” observes William Berkson, who notes that “Avot was put in nearly final form around 200 CE by one of the last and greatest sages in the book, Yehuda [Judah] HaNasi,” who made Avot a significant part of his “compendium of post-biblical legal rulings known as the Mishnah, meaning ‘recitation’ or ‘repetition’.” Berkson notes, the later “Talmud, meaning ‘study,’ is a collection of extensive commentaries on the Mishnah, known as Gemara, ‘completion’ together with those portions of the Mishnah that have been commented upon.” Hence, the laws of the Torah were described as transmitted to the Jewish people from Divine instruction to Moses at Sinai, and passed down through the generations. Moses was pivotal in this chain that transmitted the Torah down to the rabbis, which underscored their authority in subsequent Jewish tradition.
Judah HaNasi, the leading rabbi of his day, had redacted the Mishnah, a document that traditionally remains the repository of the Oral Law.
Just as leadership is essential for effective management, successful management depends on effective leadership. While each role is important to the proper functioning of any organization, a leader of an enterprise or organization— or any leader in a position of authority to whom others look for guidance— has a broader focus that benefits from particular attributes that managers, and those who report to them, should be able to respond to favorably in order to achieve the common goal of organizational success. The particular qualities a leader should possess are a matter for debate because it can be rationally argued that cultural differences play an important role in how leaders function. This is a reasonable assertion and has been shown in studies to be an important consideration because cultures often differ, even if only subtly, among those that would otherwise be deemed closely aligned.
In my years of academic study of management and leadership along with my experience working under leaders, and holding leadership roles myself, I have recognized the impact of cultural differences. But I have also come to view effective leaders as possessing a particular skill set that separates them from less effective leaders. This skill set includes, but ultimately transcends, such management techniques as the delegation of responsibilities to others and the empowerment of people, and also includes the influence of personal attributes. Charisma can be a powerful quality, but it is not a defining feature of an effective leader. Wisdom matters. Personal values matter. A sense of humility is important to assert the message that the organization is not about extolling the virtues of the leader but rather emphasizing the leader's purpose in garnering support for the organization and inspiring the rank and file to feel a similar sense of meaning in the pursuit of achieving the organization's purpose.
Hence, I firmly believe it is possible to identify features of successful leaders that transcend the reality of cultural differences, serving as an almost timeless model for those who aspire to various leadership positions. Naturally, context matters where particular attributes stand out as more significant and effective than others.
Hal Lewis observes, “Of all the behaviors Judaism associates with effective leadership, none ranks higher than humility.” So strongly did the ancient rabbis view the trait of humility that, according to the Talmud, “a leader who guides Israel with humility shall lead them also in the World-to-Come.” Concerning its opposite— arrogance— the rabbis of the Talmud say God weeps “over the public leader who is arrogant in his leadership.” These references provide some indication of the importance the rabbis have given to humility as a desired quality in a leader. Its opposite, arrogance, is a leadership problem.
Yet William Berkson notes not only that humility has “become so unpopular in our time that it is often viewed as a vice” but also that “this rejection of humility is an offspring of Rousseau's view that our natural self is purely good, and only becomes corrupted by society.” However, this perspective that blames society for one's bad behavior negates the inner and innate human conflict that the ancient rabbis regarded as inherent in all people, namely the competing impulses to do good and to do bad. This notion is explored in a further chapter, but it is important to point out, as Berkson does, that “while the Rabbinic view of humility is vulnerable to criticism that it goes too far,” the medieval Jewish rabbi, philosopher and moralist Bachya ibn Paquda “provides an important clarification” that helps support why “humility is a prerequisite to both reverence and compassion.”
In ibn Paquda's seminal work, Duties of the Heart, Paquda asserts that practicing humility “keeps a person from haughtiness, arrogance, pride, vainglory, domination, the urge to control everything, the desire for what is above him, and similar outgrowths of pride.” Among the many situations where Paquda asserts one has a duty to be humble includes while engaging in business with others and whenever one is praised for positive personal qualities. In the latter case, Paquda maintains that one should remember “previous transgressions and sins” rather than rejoice. However, Paquda also identifies a bad type of humility.
Empathy is powerful. It is certainly innate but, arguably, also a teachable disposition for effective leadership that distinguishes Moses from other leaders, whether ancient or modern. One would be mistaken, however, in assuming that to feel empathetic means to reveal weakness, to be focused solely on feelings or to be completely ineffectual as a leader. In fact, just the opposite is true. Indeed, Moses’ empathy deserves to be emulated by contemporary leaders. However, empathy is not the same as sympathy, which is just relating to, or agreeing with, the feelings of others. The Financial Times Lexicon holds that the essence of “empathic leadership is the ability to understand, relate to and be sensitive to customers, colleagues and communities.” To emphasize its meaning even more, empathic leadership contrasts with sociopathic leadership, defined as “arrogant, self-centred, insensitive and manipulative.” Hence, empathy indicates that the leader is genuinely aware of the feelings or concerns of others, understands how other people are affected, and then is able to apply this knowledge in order to take action to address any problematic situation. Empathy, in other words, is an honest, humane and ultimately crucial leadership behavior.
The Importance of Empathy
Empathic leadership is not necessarily an easy approach for leaders to effortlessly demonstrate, since it tends to contradict the myth of the heroic leader, and because it is not about egocentrism but a leader's humility. It is not about achieving personal agendas, but about helping communities— not to mention customers and colleagues— lead more desirable and satisfying lives. Humility is indeed a key attribute of Moses’ empathic personality and leadership style. Through the figure of Moses as a leader, it is evident that empathy means understanding the needs of others. According to Erica Brown, educator and director of the Jewish Leadership Institute at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, “Empathic leaders have curiosity about others. They listen with their whole face. They embody the pain of others. They are not afraid to be vulnerable. They do not back away from pain or conversations that prove emotionally entangling. They are big enough to make themselves small.” From the descriptions the Bible relates, Moses clearly demonstrates each of these capacities.
At first blush, the ancient biblical figure of Moses does not appear to have anything in common with today's political or financial leaders. What Dr. Arthur Wolak has accomplished in his work is to show us that, in fact, Moses has a great deal to teach contemporary leaders. Dr. Wolak also succeeds in connecting the most current work on effective leadership with the figure of Moses, as well as in demonstrating that all the leadership skills most desired today have their roots in the text of the Hebrew Bible as personified by Moses.
Dr. Wolak carefully and thoroughly outlines an amazing array of leadership characteristics described in the Hebrew Bible that are associated with Moses. After reading this work, one is confronted with the following list of leadership traits: humility, empathy, power sharing, vision, tenacity, heroism, self-reflection, patience, charisma, wisdom, compassion and perseverance. In addition, Moses is also shown to exhibit the ability to engender trust, to inspire others, to resolve conflicts, to push people beyond their boundaries, to delegate and to speak truth to power.
This list of qualifications at first glance seems an impossible one for any single human being to possess and more appropriate perhaps for a messianic figure. What Moses shows us, however, is that one human being can reach many, if not most, of these leadership traits, if he or she is willing to take on the lifelong discipline of continual character development and moral growth necessary to foster these traits. What Dr. Wolak has done is to show us that the best leaders are those who strive constantly for self-development first before expecting this from others.
Dr. Wolak also demonstrates the ways in which Moses intuitively moves between the roles of leader and manager, and how he succeeds in many different forms of leadership— transactional, transformational and visionary. At the same time, this work focuses on the important theme of the many human imperfections associated with Moses. As great a leader as he is, Moses is just a human being with humanity's inherent flaws. His anger can get out of control; he is not an eloquent orator due to a speech impediment; he has moments of self-doubt and fear. Yet these very weaknesses are what contribute to his great leadership.
Transformational leadership tends to reflect visionary leadership because of its focus on the larger picture, combined with the leader's ability to inspire people to work toward the achievement of a particular organizational vision. Empowerment helps foster leadership ability in those who receive delegated authority, and is a management tool that can contribute to effective leadership. Moses both empowered people and provided a vision and shared a mission statement, actions that remain essential for leadership success. Moreover, effective leadership requires trust that leaders must earn, asserts Peter Drucker, “otherwise there won't be any followers,” and, for Drucker, “the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
Warren Bennis, in his list of differences mentioned previously, maintains that “the leader inspires trust,” while “the manager relies on control,” underscoring the importance of trust as a leadership quality. Furthermore, “trust is the conviction that the leader means what he says,” because, according to Drucker, “it is a belief in integrity [since] a leader's actions and a leader's professed beliefs must be congruent, or at least compatible.” Drucker asserts, “Effective leadership […] is not based on being clever; it is based primarily on being consistent.” Consistency in leadership is imperative in order for followers to understand the message and goals of the organization as articulated by the leader.
Ultimately, however, even a twentieth-century management authority like Drucker can appreciate that “an effective leader knows that the ultimate task of leadership is to create human energies and human vision.” Robert Rosen, a theoretical biologist who applies scientific views to business, similarly asserts that “trust is the glue that holds relationships together [and] without trust, no vision ever becomes a reality,” yet, just as “trust takes a long time to earn,” it can be “lost in a moment's thoughtlessness.”
Erica Brown argues that “being visionary involves not only reflecting on the future, but also on taking a sharp, sometimes painful look at what currently exists.” In Midian, Moses was confronted, first, by a messenger, or angel, of God from a burning bush— whether simply serving to get Moses’ attention or to get him prepared for his encounter with the Divine— the voice of God emerged from the fire declaring, “‘I am […] the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’”
Sigmund Freud maintained that “the great man influences his contemporaries in two ways: through his personality and through the idea for which he stands.” Yet, according to James MacGregor Burns, in Freud's viewing Moses through the lens of the Great Man, whose personality and strongly held beliefs not only underscored the view that “Moses was one of the first of the towering ‘charismatic’ leaders,” the essence of what Freud captured was “Moses’ greatness and an ambiguity in the concept of charisma that has clouded understanding of the ‘hero in history’ to this day.” While aspects of the heroic and the charismatic leader apply to Moses, there are indeed limitations to these concepts that do not fully reflect the power of Moses’ leadership.
Heroic Leadership and the Great Man Theory
Hal Lewis feels that “the Great Man Theory exaggerates the importance of the individual leader” because it minimizes other factors or completely ignores them altogether. According to the Great Man model, Lewis asserts, “the success and failure of an entire enterprise rest largely upon the shoulders of the leader.” It is a hierarchical view of leadership. Lewis argues that this view of leadership means that followers— whether, in the modern sense, “employees” or other functionally equivalent roles as “citizens” or even “congregants”— implies a “leader-follower relationship” where the leader occupying the top position has something to offer, and, in turn, those who follow thereby depend upon that leader to address their needs, whether it be a “paycheck, physical protection, expertise” or something less concrete or even measurable, like “cures, validation, an inspired sense of purpose.”
Lewis notes that such a “top-down” view of leadership is believed to work best when the leader possesses particular personality traits deemed desirable, such as “strength, magnetism, single-mindedness, and forcefulness,” almost making “heroic leaders” viewed in only superhuman terms. Lewis maintains, therefore, that “as Judaism has for centuries, today's most progressive leadership theories distance themselves from this archaic view,” making the Great Man Theory obsolete, regarding which he points to leadership theorists like Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas as also believing that the era of the Great Man is over.
Leadership has become one of the key buzzwords in contemporary business, politics and organizations of every type, including the nonprofit, educational and public administration sectors. While modern leadership theorists suggest various models, traits and approaches to leadership behavior that purport novelty, as Ecclesiastes famously reports, “There is nothing new beneath the sun!” The truth is that, while current leadership and management vocabulary might differ from the Torah, many of the notions advocated by contemporary leadership theorists appear to emulate major behaviors, traits, functions, experiences and actions ascribed to Moses in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Few might think of Moses as a leader, or even a manager, in the contemporary sense, but Moses— among the most significant leaders to emerge in Western civilization— is arguably the quintessential example of leadership from whom much can be learned by people entering, and occupying, leadership positions.
Moses, asserts Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, is “the preeminent figure of the Hebrew Bible” about whom we have considerable biographical details because we are told how he met his wife, Tzipporah, and we know the names of his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, as well as of his father, Amram; his mother, Jochebed; his brother, Aaron; and his sister, Miriam. We even know the story of a certain amount of animosity that his older siblings, Miriam and Aaron, felt toward him at one point in the desert wanderings. Such ill will has even led some biblical scholars to mark this point as the beginning of the end of Moses’ leadership. Beyond familial jealousy, however, what we know best about Moses are his leadership qualities, tactics, even errors of judgment, which are amply described in the pages of the Bible.
Indeed, Moses’ life and career as a leader are outlined in detail in the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses as the first books of the Hebrew Bible are widely known. He rises to prominence in the second book, Exodus, but his presence is very much evident in the subsequent books of the Torah— Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy— and referenced in later books of the Tanakh, such as in the Book of Joshua, which refers back to particular incidents connected to Moses and his leadership of the Israelites.
Leadership has very ancient roots, and Moses is arguably among the best biblical prototypes for effective contemporary leaders. The ancient rabbis were certainly convinced as the following Midrash speaks well of Moses’ character and leadership qualities:
[When Moses shepherded the flocks of Jethro,] he used to stop the bigger sheep from grazing before the smaller ones, and let the smaller ones loose first to feed on the tender grass; then he would let the older sheep loose to feed on the grass of average quality; lastly he let the strong ones loose to feed on the toughest. God said, “Let […] him who knows how to shepherd the flock, each according to its strength, come and lead My people.”
Those who carefully analyze the Bible will recognize that the ideas embedded in the Torah are not limited to laws, but through the example of Moses as described in the Torah and subsequent rabbinic literature, among other non-Jewish and secular writings, we can see aspects of Moses’ leadership that continue to be advocated today. Hal Lewis asserts, “Being a leader is not the same as being a bureaucrat. A leader must be sufficiently honest to look in the mirror, to become that mirror for others, and to inspire candid organizational introspection on an ongoing basis.” Jonathan Sacks maintains that “leadership demands two kinds of courage: the strength to take a risk, and the humility to admit when a risk fails.”
While Moses’ reputation was that of the most humble of men, and he was certainly well chosen as the leader of the Israelites, Lewis notes that the Talmud, citing Rosh Hashanah 25 a– b, makes it very clear that “not every Jewish leader will be a person of impeccable integrity or one who has been destined for greatness from birth. Far from being an innate trait, leadership involves a set of behaviors and activities, much of which must be taught.” This certainly applies to all people who are prospective leaders, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
Just as Moses had an early apprenticeship followed by learning on the job, most aspiring leaders need to be taught specific leadership skills. Warren Bennis agrees with this thinking. According to Bennis and Goldsmith, “Leaders are made, not born, and are created as much by themselves as by the demands of their times.
“As a tree is known by its fruit, so man by his works.”
When Arthur asked me to write a foreword to his book Religion and Contemporary Management: Moses as a Model for Effective Leadership, I was honored and a little surprised. Although I have spent the past 30 years studying and teaching the various facets of leadership and spent several years teaching at a Jesuit university, Loyola Marymount University, I'm not exactly a religious scholar. My focus has been on the modern history of leadership rather than ancient practices.
As I contemplated further, though, I began to ask myself, “Are things really that different?” For thousands of years, there have been effective leaders and corrupt ones. Whether a leader is in politics, business or religion, the dynamics are the same. People are the same. The blazing scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Volkswagen and too many other companies illustrate that the age-old battle between right and wrong still rages on.
In the wake of these scandals, we don't need more standards-based guidelines or accounting-based rules to cover every possible situation. Instead, we need leaders of character and integrity. We need leaders who don't put their own egos and greed ahead of the welfare of the company and its employees. We need principled leaders who make ethically based decisions while considering how both other people and the environment will be affected by their actions. Frankly, we need more leaders like Moses.
Although people and their characters haven't changed much, the demands of leadership have increased. Perhaps today more than ever, people have extraordinarily high expectations of leaders. Leaders are expected to be decisive, strong, commanding, ethical, honest, fair, balanced, thoughtful and just about any other redeeming quality you can think of.
In addition to these personal qualities, leaders are also expected to have a skill set that is above and beyond that of the people they lead. If the people are negotiators, the leader is expected to be the best negotiator. If the people are athletes, the leader is expected to have knowledge and understanding in every aspect of the sport. If the people are in academics, the leader is expected to be an expert in the field in addition to leading. Is it really fair to expect all those qualities to be present in one person?
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