I’ve been a student of leadership throughout my life and especially during the Obama and Trump years. Though certainly there’s no one single style of effective leadership that applies for all people and organizations, I believe that there are virtues and character traits that make for great leadership. Consider the following as we approach the election.
Great leadership requires not just vision and high moral rectitude, but the love of truth, the love of humanity, empathy, compassion, wisdom, humility, gratitude, generosity, respect for the dignity of every individual, respect for the needs of the community, and a sacred commitment to further the common good.
Great leaders develop high emotional intelligence, work through their emotions with passion to inspire others, and lead by example.
Great leaders are courageous, lead from the front, and take risks. They take action only after careful consideration of the facts and all points of view. They articulate clearly and eloquently the choices before them and seek to influence others about why the choice they take is the best option even if it’s imperfect. They do not let the perfect stand in way of the good, and they embrace compromise when necessary to achieve noble and meaningful ends. In this way they frame reality and offer a coherent vision for the present and future.
Great leaders constantly are learning, developing, and honing their skills. They respect tradition and are open to innovation and change. They embrace experimentation and don’t fear failure because they know that from failure they have the opportunity to learn.
Great leaders delegate responsibility to able colleagues and followers knowing that they themselves cannot do everything and that there are others who know more and are better able in areas in which they personally lack knowledge and skill. They credit and take pride in others privately and publicly for their work and accomplishments. They never steal credit. They rely upon team-work and encourage everyone to do their best for the sake of the greater good. They are neither self-absorbed nor self-serving.
Great leaders take responsibility when things go wrong, do not blame others, and don’t complain. They persevere after failure and learn from their mistakes. They work hard and diligently and take time for themselves, their families, and friends. They encourage the people with whom they work to do the same because they understand that people need balance in their lives and time to care for their bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. They know that only with such balance are people happier and capable of doing their best work.
Great leaders inspire trust for all the above virtues and character traits.
Of all the excellent books on leadership that I’ve read, I recommend these two volumes:
Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2018). Dr. Kearns Goodwin, an outstanding presidential historian, considers the leadership models of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodor Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson that distinguish these leaders among our greatest presidents.
Lessons in Leadership – A Weekly Ready of the Jewish Bible by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 2015). Rabbi Sacks gleans from the weekly Torah portions key principles of leadership that distinguish Judaism’s commitment to ethical leadership throughout our 3600 year history as a people.
Rabbi Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, an inspiring and prolific author and speaker, announced last week that he is being treated for cancer. I wish him a r’fuah sh’leima bim’heira, a complete and rapid healing.