The Qualities of Excellence in Leadership
With thanks to HaYideon, the Ravsak Journal, we reprint this article on leadership written by Wexner Foundation staff Or Mars, Director, Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program, and Rabbi Jay Henry Moses, Director, Wexner Heritage Program. Both are Alumni of The Wexner Graduate Fellowship.
Cultivating excellence in the next generation of Jewish leaders can be compared to the work of a casting director in Hollywood. Through the course of her day the casting director sees countless talented actors many of whom, given the right break, could emerge as stars. But the job of the casting director is not to find the next star but to place the actor in the right situation that will create the perfect ensemble for a hit movie.
Similar to casting a movie, pinpointing excellence in Jewish leadership is an art form. There is no objective, scientific quality of “excellence” embodied by some people and not others. The art of cultivating excellence involves identifying people who exhibit certain qualities and then helping them to hone those qualities so that they can exercise leadership to impact our organizations, communities and the Jewish world. The way an individual wields and deploys these universal qualities is what adds up to excellence. Before we discuss some of those qualities, though, it is important to define this wily term “leadership.”
You don’t need to dig too deep to find a myriad of definitions of leadership. For the purposes of this essay, we will define leadership as the skillful intervention in a group situation to effect positive change. It doesn’t need to be a revolutionary move (though it could be). Exercising leadership skillfully can mean simply asking the right question at the right moment in the right way. Alternatively, it can mean remaining silent at the right moment. Or it can mean giving your version of the “I Have a Dream” speech in front of thousands. Regardless of the scope, leadership entails inserting yourself in a way that can move a group in a new direction toward good. Usually such interventions require being an agent of change. And change inevitably means loss for some people. So those who exercise leadership will often encounter resistance. And to do that work skillfully, effectively, and with excellence, one must bring several qualities to bear.
The first five of these qualities are framed as a calibration between extremes. Skillful leadership is a balancing act of how and when to exhibit just the right amount of a particular quality. As Maimonides wrote, “The upright path is the middle path of all of the qualities known to people” (Laws of Understanding 1:4).