Are Leaders Born or Nurtured?
by Stephen G. Gordon, Esq.
URJ Board Workshop Facilitator
Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanuel, Scarsdale, NY
Does God’s hand anoint, or do men assert their leadership? Do we get the leaders we deserve or those we need? Whether secular or religious, lay or professional, on the world stage or at the local level, leaders make a profound difference in our lives. Our lives change because of the leaders we are and the leaders we follow. Thoughtful, attentive, and effective leaders yield ripe fruit. Stagnation, loss and the degradation of our lives and institutions follow hard upon poor leadership. These questions, then, are worth considering.
Careful reflection upon the qualities of good leaders and the blessings of good leadership will reap rewards. Individually and communally we prosper as our leaders grow in skill and focus, provided we maintain our vigilance in selecting leaders wisely. We can abdicate neither governance nor vision to those who lead us. We must maintain a vibrant partnership between those who lead and those being led if we hope to stay a course of growth and well-being.
Perhaps the quintessence of all successful, joyous, and productive leaders is the care and regard they have for those whom they lead. Effective Jewish leaders care about their fellow congregants, their synagogues and their connections to Judaism. If God is found in the connections we forge – individual to individual, person to institution, human being to faith – then surely our leaders must care to connect meaningfully. However, simply caring about your neighbors, your synagogue and your religion is insufficient. We must care, of course, but we must also act.
A Jewish leader of value begins with caring and ends with conscientious execution of well-considered action. And the actions of our leaders should be based upon an understanding of not only the facts and circumstances of the situation, but also the dreams and desires of the stakeholders as well as the values and teachings of Torah. Jewish leadership will thrive if we commit to examine, listen, and learn. The facts will be known only if careful examination is pursued; the needs and concerns will be understood only if attentive listening is employed; and the values we hope to live by will be secured only if we learn and apply the lessons of Torah.
Some are born to lead but all can be taught to lead more effectively. Some few may have been blessed to lead but all are free to assume leadership. We can find the leaders we need if we hold fast to our responsibilities; if we fail to do so, we will surely get the leaders we deserve.
Spotlight on Leadership and Transitions- This month the URJ is highlighting resources to help congregations with governance, leadership development and transitions. Learn more on the URJ website.