by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
The opening page of Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t, sets the stage for the role of a leader. “Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown. They rush toward the danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours and they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.
“I have often looked at this opening page as a way of centering myself in my personal and professional life. This week, in looking at Sinek’s words, I am struck by their connectedness to this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha.
Our portion opens with the challenge to Abram (who later becomes Abraham) to “Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I (God) will make of you a great nation; I will bless you, and I will make your name great and you will be a blessing.”
Abraham was the epitome of running headfirst into the unknown. There is a Midrash (Rabbinic story) told of Abraham and Nimrod found in Genesis Rabbah 38:11, in which Nimrod tries to convince Abraham to worship fire. Abraham then argues, why fire and not water; why water and not clouds; why clouds and not wind, to which Nimrod becomes angry and decides that Abraham should be thrown into the fire. Abraham in turn, rushed into the fire, but survived unscathed. Abraham was willing to rush to danger to show his true leadership. He was willing to leave behind all that he knew, to take only his wife and his nephew into the unknown. Abraham was also willing to rush towards danger.
Almost immediately after these stories, Abraham encounters a famine in the land that God had promised him. Abraham put his own interests aside to protect the future of the Jewish people. He took his family and went to Egypt. He tries to protect his family by telling Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister rather than his wife. Rashi (a Biblical commentator who lived in the 11th Century), suggests that Abraham is not only afraid that he would be killed, and Pharaoh would take Sarah as a concubine, but that Abraham knew that he would be lavished with gifts by the Egyptians if they thought that Sarah was his sister. Abraham through prophetic vision knew that the gifts he received from the Egyptians would in turn be the spoils that the Jewish people were able to take from Egypt during the time of the exodus.
Sinek goes on to suggest in his book that we must look at the “value of purpose”. Why do we do what we do? What drives us? He declares, “Human beings have thrived for fifty thousand years not because we are driven to serve ourselves, but because we are inspired to serve others… All we need are leaders to give us a good reason to commit ourselves to each other.”
Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. and Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D., in their paper, Abraham as a Transformational Leader, write that when we need leaders, we are searching for ones who have charisma and possess the ability to inspire followers. They go on to say that “transformational leaders are individuals capable of motivating and inspiring followers by appealing to higher goals and the common good rather than individual needs and self-interest (e.g., financial gain).” In describing Abraham as a transformational leader, Friedman and Langbert draw on the following attributes: vision, courage, confidence, care for others, strong sense of justice, humility, charisma, willingness to make sacrifices, daring to be different and serve as a change agent.
A recent article in the Wall Street journal helps to drive home this point. The article, The Best Bosses are Humble Bosses, focuses on research from Hogan Assessments new humility scale. The research identifies humility and honesty as the most important trait. They refer to it as the “H Factor.” This trait factors in sincerity, modesty, fairness, truthfulness and unpretentiousness. The finding yielded that teams with humble leaders perform better and do higher quality work.
At Bornblum, we want our students to lead like Abraham. We want our students to take risks, to put the needs of others above their own and to be humble.