Who is a Good Leader?
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
If you read a book about leadership, what important key points would you find about being a good leader?
You may find that leaders are born into leadership because of their innate gifts. Some theories stress the motivations of leaders to lead. Other theories stress the powers of persuasion and the gift of popularity.
Besides this, you will find that to be an effective leader, you should be confident enough to ensure that others follow your commands. In addition, a good leader should be a good communicator. Words have the power to motivate people and make them do the unthinkable.
In this week’s parashah, parashat Sh’mot, we witness the birth of a great leader among the Jewish people: Moses. However, we hardly find the qualities mentioned before in Moses, at least, at the beginning of his leadership.
Moses didn’t have innate gifts to be a leader. He had innate difficulties which included a speech defect. Moses himself recognized his challenge: “But Moses said to the LORD, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Sh’mot 4:10)
Regarding confidence, Moses said to God: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” (Sh’mot 3:11) Moses didn’t seem to have confidence in himself.
Regarding being a good communicator, Moses said to God: “What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me, but say: The LORD did not appear to you?” (Sh’mot 4:1) Moses didn’t seem to be a good communicator.
Thus, what leadership qualities saw God in Moses in order to choose him as the leader of the people of Israel in their liberation from slavery?
Maybe God chose Moses because he had one of the qualities a leader should have. Moses was empathic and a good listener. As some modern theories state, leaders should develop empathy with their followers. Understanding the problems of their followers and feeling their pain is the first step to become an effective leader. Even that is not enough until you work hard and provide your followers with the suitable solution to their problems.
How can we see this quality in Moses?
It is written in the Torah: “… when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and looked on their burdens. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. (Sh’mot 2:11)
Rashi explains, “he looked on their burdens” as he set his eyes and mind to share in their distress.
Moses was not content to hear about the suffering of his brothers while he sat comfortably in the palace. Rather “he went out” to see them for himself. Moses wanted to witness the suffering of his brothers personally. And this shows one of the great qualities of a leader. To be empathic with the suffering of his people and try to find a solution to their suffering.
At the beginning of his career as a leader, Moses didn’t have many of the qualities expected from a leader. However, for God, the quality of being empathic with his people was so important that he decided to choose him as the leader who would liberate the people of Israel from Egypt. Moses listened to the suffering of his people. This was the most important thing for the leader.
May we and our leaders learn to be good listeners and be emphatic to their people who are suffering and comfort them and help them to find a solution to their problems as Moses did.