Chosen Leaders Must Choose to Lead

23 Oct


Americans and Israelis are deep into the process that perhaps more than anything else exemplifies what democracy is all about: the open election of leadership.

While the procedures that ultimately lead to the election of the individual who will occupy the top position might differ, the goal is the same – to zero in on the single soul who will be chosen as leader, who will speak in the name of millions of citizens, who will set the tone of domestic and foreign policy in the years to come.

But it seems very clear to me that there is a major gap between being chosen as leader, and choosing to lead.

John Maxwell, in his book The Five Levels of Leadership, describes a process through which elected or appointed officials become accomplished leaders. Let me share Maxwell’s insights into the difference between Level I and Level II leaders.

Level I leaders are positional leaders. The only influence a positional leader has is that which comes with the job title. Positional leadership is based on the rights granted by the position and title. Nothing is wrong with having a leadership position. Everything is wrong with using position to get people to follow.

Level II leaders lead by permission. Permission is about building relationships. It focuses on the value of each person and opens up communication. When people feel liked, cared for, included, valued, and trusted, they begin to work together with their leader and each other. And that can change the entire working environment. The old saying is really true: people go along with leaders they get along with.

As Maxwell points out: people follow Level I leaders because they have to, Level II leaders because they want to.

Parashat Lecha Lecha opens with Abraham’s election to leadership. Abraham will become a great nation, he will bring blessing to the world. And ultimately, says God, “Veniverchu vecha kol mishpechot ha’adamah,” loosely translated, “and the families of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)

Rashi offers a very straightforward, literal interpretation of this verse – an interpretation that points to the sign of great leadership. “There are many stories [that attempt to illustrate the meaning of this verse], but here is its straightforward meaning: A parent will say to his child, ‘Be like Abraham.”

Perhaps it that simple: when it is all said and done, if down the road we are ready to turn to our children, bless them and encourage them to be like our president, to be like our prime minister, then we know that we have truly been blessed with an authentic leader.

People are often chosen as leaders because they have the potential to lead. Whether or not they become leaders will only become evidenced by the subsequent steps they take to earn that title for real.


6 Responses to “Chosen Leaders Must Choose to Lead”

  1. Henri Goettel Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Now I’m really excited for “Inspired Leadership”!

  2. leiahjaffe Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Nice post. So true. And it seems to me that people who seek out leadership because they think they deserve it for one reason or another only get to Level I. Only by truly loving what you are doing and love connecting to people, can you surpass that level.
    So…What are the other three leadership levels? You have left me hanging on a thread.

  3. Marcia Nabut Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    And the three other levels are…………? This was not a complete picture. Please help.


  1. Lech Lecha: Leading and Following | CAJE - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    […] this “Tuesdays with Morey” column, Rabbi Morey Schwartz challenges us to think about leadership and why some leaders lead […]

  2. Lech Lecha: Leading and Following « CAJE - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

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