From “Supposed” to Subversive
Yehuda Kurtzer is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program, Class XV. He is the President of The Shalom Hartman Institute which is a center of transformative thinking and teaching. They address the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevate the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I suppose it is common, when starting something new, to walk slowly until you understand the pace and style at which you are supposed to walk. I’ve started new things a lot in the past few years – a minyan, a book project, and now a new organizational venture. In all these cases, I inherited the extraordinary vision of either the creators of these positions or of similar organizations that suggested specific conditions for success. And in all cases, I found myself struggling early on about how to actualize the success that was imagined: How do I capture the tone in the book that I am expected to write? How do I bring about the success for an organization that is assumed under specific and pre-existing variables?
But leadership is not encapsulated in figuring out the most effective way to fit into the structures that are created for you, even when they are formulated to foster success. As we know from Marty Linsky, leadership is a fundamentally subversive act – it undermines and destabilizes fixed forms, believing that those forms can only encapsulate the limited vision of the ones who come before us, and do not capture the full spectrum of what we can add, change or recreate. And leadership is lonely, and it is personal: it involves an awareness of one’s true self, and a willingness to create on the basis of that self-knowledge.
My defining leadership moment came at the early stage of my book project, when a learned colleague helping me through a dry spell in my writing looked at me and told me to just write what I wanted to write. It seems obvious; but in so doing, she helped me move from trying to create success in the framework I was handed, to imagining success based on what I could bring to the table. We are what we can create: sometimes in service of existing visions, but mostly in service of the visions we (and only we) are capable of imagining. My book is due out this spring.