As most of you know, I was invited to teach a course in leadership to fourth-year rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary this fall (and will continue during fall semester in years to come). Thanks to the generosity of the Myers Foundation, the course has resources that have enabled me to draw on experts in the field of leadership studies (Jewish and general) as well as to invite individuals who are themselves extraordinary examples of Jewish leaders.
This column is too short to allow me to be comprehensive, but here are a few take-aways worth mentioning. I am certain that I will have the opportunity to expand on them as time goes on, in this column, from the pulpit and in congregational study sessions.
First and foremost, the future of the Conservative rabbinate is bright. I am blessed to have a glimpse into the coming generation of leaders - scary-smart, self-confident and committed both to what Conservative Judaism has been and what it is yet to be.
Second, our tradition has a lot to say about leadership. Rabbis Saul Berman and Daniel Nevins joined me in presenting texts from the Bible, the Rabbinic period and Maimonides that focus on the qualities and purposes of good leaders and their practices. As you might expect, there is a diversity of approaches, but they all insist that the ideal not be the enemy of the good, even if the ideal represents our goals.
Next, much of the current literature about leadership is of a kind. Generally, a successful CEO draws lessons from his (always his) career and develops "rules." The number of those rules ranges from 4 to 36, but they boil down to these essential notions: know yourself and your priorities, listen carefully to others and become expert in your leadership environment, believe in your competencies and collaborate with others who can help you reach your goals, especially if they complement your abilities. The devil, of course, is in the details.
Fourth, there are extraordinary examples of Jewish leaders in our world. I was privileged to welcome Heather Booth, Ruth Messinger and Rabbis Jane Kanarek and Andrea Merow to my classes to speak of their work in civic and social justice engagement. (Yes, all women; see the paragraph above)
And last, there is a difference between leadership and management. Managers are charged with preserving the status quo; their success is based on measurable goals and efficiency, both of which are important. Good management is essential for effective leadership. But a leader is someone with followers, and that, of course, means that the leader must have a sense of where the followers should go. I am very happy that the students in the course have an emerging sense of where our congregations and our society need to go; I am hoping I have had some part in helping them get there.