Saturday, November 10, 2018

Follow My Lead

"Leadership" is yet another buzzword that gets tossed around frequently. What does it mean to be a leader? What if you don't have a "leader personality?" And in these turbulent times, what can we learn about leadership that we can use in our daily lives?

If you're a migrating bird, it's important to stay in formation and follow the flock. But when you're not so good at following directions, maybe it's not because you have executive function issues (yet another buzzword, this one for parents, which is a whole 'nother discussion), but because you are meant to be a leader. Such is the case in Anna Levine's wonderful All Eyes on Alexandra (Kar-Ben, 2018). Chiara Pasqualotto's beautiful illustrations show a crane who is curious about volcanoes and waterfalls. But Alexandra can sense when the weather changes, she has studied the wind, and she is "never afraid to try new things." Her Saba (grandfather) decides she is ready to lead the flock to Israel, which she does with (sorry for the pun) flying colors.  

At a stall in my professional life, I started reading Parker J. Palmer's Let Your Life Speak (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), a collection of short essays about "Listening for the Voice of Vocation." It talks about leadership as "a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders." But he has come to understand that we "lead by word and deed simply because we are here doing what we do." This seems very deep and encouraging, but much like when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, or like blogging away in cyberspace, I am leading if no one is following? 

Erica Brown has focused on Jewish leadership. Her Inspired Jewish Leadership: Practical Approaches to Building Strong Communities (Jewish Lights, 2008) explores Jewish leadership through “ancient models of Jewish leadership, contemporary professional business literature, and Jewish texts.” Her Leadership in the Wilderness: Authority and Anarchy in the Book of Numbers (Maggid Books, 2013) delves into the fourth book of the Bible. It highlights the development of Moses' leadership, from his own attitudes, to environmental challenges while wandering in the desert, to defiance from Korach and his group, and threats from Bilaam and the Midianite women to the Israelites' very existence. These show how Jewish leaders are made: “Discover yourself in the wilderness of a future you know not. Go outside to go inside. Grow where the wild things are. Learn from that which almost kills you. Leave the past and discover God.”

Obviously Moses was not the only biblical leader. In another Maggid (2015) book, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes about Lessons in Leadership. In one of my favorite format, Rabbi Sacks, "mines the weekly Torah portions for insights into the nature of power, authority, and leadership. Based on the understanding that no man is born a leader, the book explores the principles, and perils, of becoming one." One reviewer gushed that "These essays take everything to a whole new level; personal responsibility, moral responsibility, human responsibility, collective responsibility. People often ask why I do what I do, and so far this book is giving me a framework to attempt to explain." It is also interesting that so many reader reviews on Amazon mention its relevance to non-Jewish readers and teachers.

Brene Brown's latest book is Dare to Lead (Random House, 2018). Known for one of the most popular TED talks of all time about the power of vulnerability, she researches and writes about being brave, taking risks, and really connecting with other people. Although it builds on her other books, this one stands on its own in terms of content. And there is a hub on Brown's website with nine ways to engage in the "Brave Work," including downloads, finding certified Dare to Lead facilitators, and schedules for a team or organization read-a-long. 

And, of course, the Real Cats of Israel follow their own lead:

Happy reading!

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