In a recent survey of America’s top 140 CEO’s, there was not a single duplicate answer to the simple question “what is leadership?”. In fact, while leadership seems a relatively straight-forward concept to understand, it is one of the most contentious and misunderstood ideas of our time.
The general ambiguity surrounding leadership poses significant challenges for young Jewish professionals seeking to unlock their leadership potential. What then is leadership, and more importantly, why should young Jews aspire to attain it?
To begin, it’s important to define what leadership is not
- Leadership is not a position. This may seem self-evident, but all too often leadership is conflated with a job title.
- Leadership has nothing to do with personal attributes. Leadership isn’t an adjective. To appreciate this point, just compare the personalities of Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama.
- Leadership is not about being right. In order to become a leader, you must recognise that failure builds the foundations for future success.
So, what is leadership? (note this is not a comprehensive list)
- Leadership is influencing the decisionmaking of others. It’s not coincidental that influence and influenza share the same root word: good leaders are contagious.
- Leaders have a “growth mindset”. A recent Harvard study confirmed that no matter what their aspirations, a leader must believe that there is no limit to personal development.
- Leadership is strong communication. As U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “ninety percent of leadership is the ability to communicate something people want.”
- Leadership is strong decisonmaking. This stems from a high sense of responsibility, a firm sense of direction and the ability to think quickly under pressure.
- Leadership is networking. Nobody can create success on their own. Particularly in your early career, it is essential to have a network to support you and who’s advice you can draw upon to help navigate through difficult scenarios.
Why become a leader?
Beyond the obvious benefits in the workforce, the impetus for Jews to become leaders is especially poignant: the Jewish position in the world is precarious and uncertain.
History has proven anti-Semitism to be a perennial feature of the human condition. This continues to persist today, where the sole Jewish state is singled out as a racist and illegitimate colonial entity. Even at the UN, an apparent beacon of integrity and respect for diversity, Israel has received more condemnations than the rest of the world combined since 2006. With anti-Semitism so deep-rooted, it is clear that Jews must have the interpersonal, leadership and relationship building skills to stand for themselves and to combat anti-Semitism when it arises.
Equally, in a thriving and ever-evolving multicultural democracy, we need leaders to ensure that Jewish community interests continue to be heard and represented. To safely steer our community into the future, we need leaders across all sectors – business, politics and the arts alike. After all: if we don’t represent for ourselves, who will?
How can you actually become a leader?
The answer that shines across all theories of leadership is simple: learning to lead is a process of learning by doing. Like any skill, leadership is a craft acquired through real-world experience, practice and trial and error.
By taking on a leadership role, you will internalise new ways of thinking and methods of problem solving, paving the way for a new and improved self to emerge. Ultimately, the more leaders the Jewish community has, the more vibrant and resilient our community will be.
Remember, leaders aren’t born – they are made.