by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
What are the hallmarks of a strong leader?
In this week's Torah portion Moses starts preparing for "the day after". He asks of G-d to "appoint a man over the assembly who shall go out before them and come in before them who shall take them out and who shall bring them in, and let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd".
Simply put, Moses' request that the one who fills his shoes be "one who shall go out before them and come in before them"; was that G-d should appoint a bold man who would not be content with sending out others to war while he stays behind in his fortified bunker. Moses wanted the leader of the Jewish people to be a man of action, one who leads by example - "one who shall go out before them".
But there is more to it:
For many of today's "leaders" it's all about being popular. There are no principles, values or standards that are non-negotiable. The latest poll is what determines their next policy. Today the public feels like this so the leader goes along with it. As public opinion changes, so does the leader's. What matters most to these "leaders" is their legacy, how they will be remembered by the public. These "leaders" are not leading the people anywhere; they are being led by the people.
A leader's mandate is to lead. His job is to have clearly defined goals of what is for the overall good of his people. He strides in that direction and draws the people after him. He is constantly sensitive to the needs of his people and is in no way indifferent to what people think but at the same time is not afraid to move in the direction of what he feels is right, even if it may affect his popularity.
In the Talmud there is a short but very interesting discussion on leadership that goes as follows: Abaya said "if a scholar is loved by all the people of his town it's not necessarily because he is gifted but because he fails to rebuke them in matters of heaven." Rava said "Before I took up a position of leadership everyone used to like me, when I became a leader I thought that there are some who like me and some who dislike me. When the people began to see that even those who thought that they are the losers today are actually the winners tomorrow I realized that if I'm loved I'll eventually be loved by all, if I'm hated I'll eventually be hated by all."
Abaye is teaching us that a "leader" who is only interested in popularity cannot be doing his job properly. Rava adds that though a true leader may suffer in the present-day polls, at the end of the day when people realize that this was a principled leader who only had their overall good in mind - he will be vindicated, remembered and respected. Because ultimately people appreciate and respect a person with firm values and reject weak-kneed "leaders" who are only interested in self-promotion.
This is the kind of leader that Moses requested for his people - "one who shall go out before them and come in before them". He wanted a successor who would be the leader not the led, one who would go out before them and they follow him rather than them going out and him following them.