By Naphtali Hoff
This week’s Torah portion introduces us to the concept of the selfless leader, one who continually serves his people, often at the price of undue flak and heartache.
Merely days after bringing his entire people out of Egypt in broad daylight, Moses’ nation expressed numerous complaints. The first was about their ability to survive the situation at the Red Sea and the Egyptian pursuit. They then pined for water and meat, each time making the complaint personal. “The people complained against Moses” (Exodus 15:24). “The entire community of the children of Israel complained against Moses and against Aharon in the desert.” (Ibid 16:2) Each time Moses cried to God for deliverance.
Despite his efforts, resistance to Moses remained firm in the form of Dathan and Abiram.
And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave over [any] of it until morning.” But [some] men did not obey Moses and left over [some] of it until morning, and it bred worms and became putrid, and Moses became angry with them. (Exodus 16:19-20)
Nor were the people as a whole finished with their complaints. “So the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” (Ibid 17:2)
Later, during Korah’s rebellion, Dathan and Abiram brought much additional angst to the Jewish leader. Moses, in turn, became justifiably agitated, particularly because of the selfless way that he had always approached his role.
Moses was exceedingly distressed, and he said to the Lord, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.” (Numbers 16:15) I did not take a donkey from any one of them. Even when I went from Midian to Egypt, and I placed my wife and sons on a donkey to ride, and I should have taken that donkey from their property, I took only from my own property (Rashi Ibid, quoting Tanchuma Korah 7, Numbers Rabbah 10).
Such selflessness remained his hallmark to the very end, when he pleaded to God about his immediate successor, detailing what true leadership looks like and the essential qualities that comprise such headship.
Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd. And God said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is spirit, and lay your hand upon him.” (Numbers 27:16-18)
As he neared the end of his leadership term, Moses expressed no concern about enhancing his personal legacy and reveling in past accomplishments. His words conveyed a deep sense of care about his people’s future.
Moreover, Moses was concerned about each Jew individually. His reference to God as “the God of the spirits of all flesh” highlighted His knowledge of human intricacies, a knowledge that Moses hoped would be bestowed on his successor to ensure proper, individualized leadership. Moses’s concern naturally also extended to the collective whole, as expressed by his request that his successor be one “who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in”.
The very best organizational leaders today, the ones who have been successful in elevating their companies to the top of their respective fields, are individuals who prioritize the tried and true qualities of selfless care and consideration. They are humble and willing to admit error, on top of their other core managerial competencies.
In From Good to Great (New York, NY, HarperBusiness, 2001) author Jim Collins describes his personal quest to identify the qualities that make a company singularly successful. He and his research team began the process with a list of nearly 1500 companies. Through the use of growth-related criteria they narrowed the list down to a group of eleven truly “great” corporations. Additional research revealed that all eleven companies had one particular thing in common: they were all headed by what Collins termed “Level 5 Leaders.”
These leaders were all smart, shrewd, skilled and knowledgeable of their respective products and market. They were effective at developing and managing teams within their organization, establishing a vision, setting goals and meeting performance objectives. But so were many of the leaders of the 1500 other corporations in his study. What set these Level 5 CEOs apart from so many others in their comparative group was the fact that they were recognized and admired by their coworkers for their noble character.
Collins’ group of Level 5 leaders were humble and did not pursue success for their personal glory. Some were shy, but remained undaunted when asked to make difficult, even risky, decisions. They were caring of others, while maintaining a burning, passionate drive, a deep desire to advance their respective cause. And because they were so exceptional in their care and concern, others began to mimic their deeds and thinking processes, further advancing the firm’s cause.