A young Hasidic man ran to his Rebbe and told him that he had a dream that he was the leader of 300 Hasidim. His Rebbe told him, when 300 Hasidim have a dream that you are their Rebbe, THEN you are a Rebbe.

I meet many kinds of leaders, both professional as well as lay leadership, and recognize that they fall into one of several categories. Some people go into leadership because they have administrative gifts and are good with organizing. People look to them to lead because they can take a mess and bring order out of chaos. Without doubt, administrative skills are important, but leadership is more than organization.

Other people become leaders because they have a genuine concern for people and may not be the most organized, but out of compassion and kindness do what they can to help the people around them. Caring is important, but there is more to leading others than simply caring.

Other’s lead because they are educated, even if they don’t understand people. They are put in positions for their knowledge but in the long run, they don’t make effective leaders because their heads are in ivory towers but their feet are not on the ground where people live. Leading people means being able to relate to them.

A fourth group of leaders seek leadership positions because they have a hard time working under anyone else and if they are in leadership, they get to call the shots. I am often reminded by this group of a line in the film, Amadeus, where Antonio Salieri prayed for the gift of music so he could become “great for God.” It takes nothing special to wish to be “great” for God or for oneself. People seeking greatness are usually self-centered and use people more than help them.

Without doubt, the best leaders have characteristics of the first three groups, and hopefully none of the last group. Yeshua taught, “He who wishes to be greatest among you must become the servant of all.” The concept of servant-leadership is not the type of leadership most people aspire to, but it is what Yeshua modeled in his own life and taught his disciples. The reason a leader needs to be a servant in his relationship to people, is because its a hard thing for people to submit to someone else’s leadership. If a leader is arrogant, it makes a hard thing even more difficult. I’ve seen people exhibit a false humility in their leadership but go with one or more of the models I mentioned above, but Yeshua wasn’t talking about false humility. False humility looks fake and everyone knows it. Yeshua meant that if someone truly wishes to be a leader, they need to put people first and not worry about impressing them. When I was in seminary, I worked for a while as a janitor for a large church near the school where many of my professors attended. I asked the pastor what it was like preaching to a crowd where so many were fluent in Hebrew and Greek and could easily dissect his message. He said they were people with needs and problems like anyone else and he sought to minister to them rather than impress them. His answer made a lasting impression on me.

When I meet people who try to impress me with what they know or think they know, or what they have studied, it tells me they are not speaking out of humility but out of pride. Real leaders can’t act out of selfishness or what is comfortable for themselves. They need to be seeking other people’s good, and comfort those who need comforting and rejoice with those who are rejoicing. People who are trying to show what they know or what they can do, or put themselves above anyone else are not seeking other people’s good. They are jockeying for position. Leaders must be willing to let their hearts be broken and have compassion for others. A real leader will be patient with people, forgiving and encouraging, and sometimes confronting but always with seeking the good of others. Seeking the other people’s well-being is what it means to be a servant. When God raises up a leader, he wants them to have compassion on people, because they are his children. He wants a leader to have compassion on them, as He has on us.


5 thoughts on “Leadership

  1. Dr. Schiffman, thanks for this poignant post. I just started leading music at our congregation, and this post was a good reminder to be a servant. Thank you.

    I’m reminded of the story of the late Art Katz. Katz, a longtime atheist, was travelling abroad when he ran into a man with a servant’s heart:

    “One rainy wet day Katz was in Greece, hitchhiking, with a week’s growth of beard upon his face, and a dirty rucksack on his back, standing in the wind and the rain thumbing a ride. Of course, no one wanted to pick him up. He stood there for hours when at last a big Cadillac came by, and stopped.

    To his amazement the man did not merely open the door and gesture for him to get in; he got out of his car, came around, and began to pump his hand and to welcome him as though he were some kind of king. He took the dirty rucksack and threw it on the clean upholstery. Art said he winced himself when he saw that. Then the man invited him to get in the car, and they drove on. The man treated him as though he were a welcome guest. Art Katz could not understand this. He was taken to a hotel and the man bought him a room and cleaned him up and gave him some food.

    Finally he asked him what he was doing, and where he was going. There came pouring out of this young Jewish atheist all the pent-up heartache, misery, and resentment of his life. He told him the whole thing, just pouring it all out. The man sat and listened, and when he was all through, he spoke one sentence. He said, “You know, Art, what the world needs? — those who are willing to wash one another’s feet.” Art Katz said, “I never heard anything more beautiful than that. Why do you say that?” And the man said, “Because that’s what my Lord did.”

    For the first time in this young atheist’s life he heard a Christian witness. That was the beginning of the end.”

  2. Pingback: On Leadership « The Rosh Pina Project

  3. Dr Shiffmanm nice post. As you know, humble can often be half-proud.
    Judah, I’ve seen you on the RoshPinaProject. I’m so glad that you mentioned Art Katz. I want to ask you and Dr Shiffman whether you have read Art Katz’s other works or listened to his tapes?

    • It is a good point that humble can often be half proud. Human beings are not always consistent. I believe our job is to work on our own attitudes and not criticize the short comings of others. It is easier to share about humility than practice it. I have read some of Art’s works, and met him on several occasions. I would rather not comment on Art or his work. Humility is something to be practiced, not showcased. I like what Golda Meir said to someone feigning humility. She said, “don’t be so humble, you aren’t that great to begin with.”

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