Leadership – The Art of Selflessness


The Art of Selflessness


Chapter 1 Do we really need leaders?



Who is a true leader?


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 had high standards and truly stood for something.


Someone who inspired and motivated us.


Someone who taught us to set goals and instilled the confidence and spirit to achieve them.


Such a person is a true leader.



Contemporary Leaders


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.




Do we really need leaders in the first place?


Yes we need leaders. On our own we may lack the vision, direction and strength to reach our goals.


We all begin our lives in need of guidance – even the most precocious child could not possibly be expected to make certain crucial decisions.


Once we become adults, with the capacity to reason for ourselves, most of us are so overwhelmed with the pressures of daily survival that 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. As the sages write “one who is bound can not undue the knots that tie him.”


A leader 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.



Urgency in Leaders


A sense of urgency is jut as important in a leader as a sense of vision.



To fulfill the vision of life itself



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 inspire millions of citizens to support them.


What these leaders don’t provide is simple, – and essential: A vision of 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 them how their every action is an indispensible 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 the vision of life itself.


Chapter 2 What makes a True Leader?



Discerning True Leaders


With so many people purporting to be leaders these days, how do we recognize a true leader?


To answer that question, we must step back and ask: What is it that the leader is really trying to accomplish?


A true leader wants nothing more than give people pride, to make people stand on their own, as leaders in their own right.


Instead of trying to blind us with his or her brilliance, a true leader reflects our own light back to us, so that we may see ourselves anew.




Moses was the quintessential leader.

We read in Exodus that he was a shepherd – a rather modest beginning for the man who would speak to G-d.


He kept watch as thousands of sheep wandered the fields.


Moses noticed that one sheep was missing and went off to look for it, finding it at a distant brook.


He waited until the sheep had finished drinking then he lifted it onto his shoulders and carried it back to the flock.


When G-d saw this, he realized that Moses was a man of reason, empathy, and selfless devotion, a man truly worth to lead his people.


After all, no one was watching Moses; he could easily have thought to himself, Why be concerned with one sheep when there are thousands?




In our secular society, we tend to think of a leader as a person who is well connected, who is powerful or 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 see his work as selfless service towards a higher purpose.


As the sages say “Leadership is not power and dominion, it is servitude.”


This does not mean that a leader is weak; he derives his great strength from his dedication to a purpose that is greater than himself.



Every Generation’s Mosses’ Leadership


Each generation has its Moses, a leader who inspires absolute trust, who is totally dedicated to fulfilling his unique role.


He understands and appreciates each person’s role in perfecting this world, and guides him or her accordingly.


He rises above any individual perspective to take a global view, seeing how each person and issue fits into the entire scheme of the contemporary world.




A true leader shakes people from their reverie and tells them: No you don’t need to live a life of desperation and confusion. Yes you do have the ability to find meaning in your life, and the unique skills to fulfill that meaning.


You are an important link in a chain of generations past; you have a legacy worth preserving and future worth fighting for.




A true leader shows us that our world is indeed heading somewhere and that we can control its movement.


That we need not be at the mercy of personal prejudices or the prevailing political wind.


That none of us is subservient to history or nature – that we are history and nature.


That we can rid the world of war and hate and ignorance, and obliterate the borders separating race from race, rich from poor.



Merging Democracy and True Leadership


Centuries ago, kings and queens ruled the world, but we are today far removed from the very concept of absolute leadership.


Indeed leadership would seem to contradict our democratic tradition, which has taught us not to subordinate our lives to others. But we cannot afford to be so literal-minded. If the ideals of democracy were followed to the extreme, if the public demanded a referendum for even the smallest piece of legislature, society could not function.


So our current political makeup is a pragmatic and acceptable compromise allowing individuals a role in choosing their leaders while holding the leaders responsible to society.


Sill, many people have lost faith in contemporary leaders. The solution is not to resign yourself to this sad state of affairs, but to search for and demand a leader of sterling character. The ultimate goal should be to have all the benefits of democracy and the benefits of a visionary leader.



Distinguishing between leadership and demagoguery


It is important, especially today, to distinguish between leadership and demagoguery.


A demagogue may inspire people but his motives are impure and expectation unrealistic.


It is wise to be a bit skeptical when assessing a leader: Is he truly devoted to his mission or just seeking glory?


Is he truly interested in the welfare of others or simply building a flock for his own aggrandizement?


A true leader does not seek followers; he wants to teach others how to be leaders.


He does not want control; only the truth.


He does not impose his leadership on others, nor does he take away anyone’s autonomy.


He inspires by love, not coercion.


When it comes time to take credit, he makes himself invisible; but he is the first to arrive at the time of need.


He will never shrink away in fear.


He is so passionate about your welfare that when you consult with him for guidance it is like coming face to face with yourself for the first time.



Walking the talk


A true leader must be a living example of his teachings.


When we see that a leader’s personal life embodies his philosophy, we too are inspired to learn and practice that philosophy.


Conversely, if we see that a leader does not live by his own words, we cannot trust him.



Practical Leadership


It is useless for a leader to be a visionary in the abstract, he must be a successful communicator whose vision can be translated into specific, applicable principles – not knowledge for the sake of knowledge but knowledge that can help improve the world.



Leadership and Humility


So a leader must be many thing – selfless, devoted, visionary, courageous and above all humble.


When G-d chose Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt Moses replied “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”


Indeed “Moses was humbler than any man on the face of the Earth.”



Recognize Good Leadership


We must recognize the characteristics of a leader – not only so we can weed out the demagogues, but so we can freely embrace a true leader when he emerges.


When people sincerely believe in a leader, they can rise above their petty self-concerns. They become eager to accept his direction and input, and are inspired to accomplish far more than they could have on their own.




By recognizing the characteristics of a true leader, we set a standard for our leaders and more importantly for ourselves.


Setting your sights on the summit even when you have yet to arrive, this is the surest way of completing the journey.


Chapter3 How can Each of Us Become A True Leader?

Practice and Theory

You Can Be A Leader


It is true that not everyone can be a leader like Moses; But every person, no matter how uneducated or poor has something to teach the wisest and richest among us.


No one is incapable of being a leader in some way, and no one is exempt from the responsibility.


You may think that you were not a “born leader.” But why, then, were you created? Each of us has been given unique strengths and abilities, we have the choice to use them selfishly or to share them with others.

Practice and Theory


Every generation places particular demands on its leaders, and the leadership of every generation is linked to its predecessors.

Practice and Theory


We have just as much to learn from Moses as from the leaders of the twentieth century; although the future may be vast we can see a great distance when we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Practice and Theory


Our current generation is so hungry for meaning and direction, for spiritual nourishment, that each one of us must serve as a leader.

Practice and Theory


Whatever you have learned, whatever you have been touched by, you must share it with others.

Practice and Theory


You can not waste time wondering if you are truly equipped to help your fellow man. When someone is drowning you don’t take a life course – you jump into the water and save a life!

Practice and Theory


So examine the areas of your life where people look at you as a leader - whether in your family, in your class, at work or with your peers.


Ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to influence them positively?


Am I using all my G-d given abilities to inspire them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually?


Am I helping them live up to their true potential so they can become leaders in their own right?

Practice and Theory


One leader creates another and another ad infinitum, just as one candle’s flame lights another and another until the once impenetrable darkness has turned to brilliant light.

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