Erica Brown, on her podcast Day 129, discusses renewal and the challenges leaders face when getting stuck in routines and relying on “the way we’ve done things”. Erica shares that we don’t know we have been imprisoned until we’ve broken out. Advancing renewal results in a level of self-awareness that can unleash the full range of potential we have. As leaders we either invite renewal or keep it at bay, all of which depends on the choices we make.
As leaders making critical choices, we role model accountability and take ownership over our choices even when they are the wrong choices. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, in his commentary on Vayigash (Beresheet/Genesis, 44:18-47:27),suggests that “Leaders make mistakes. That is an occupational hazard of the role.” (p.53) He continues by adding “Managers follow the rules, but leaders find themselves in situations for which there are no rules.” (ibid.)
I identify with Rabbi Sacks’ first comment, leaders certainly do make mistakes. His commentary references Judah’s role as a main character in Vayigash, highlighting his growth from co-conspirator in selling Joseph to slavery to becoming a tzadik. Judah was the first biblical character choosing to commit repentance for his past transgressions by admitting his wrongdoings. Judah commits to renewal by making the right choices as opposed to the wrong choices he made in his past.
However, I disagree with Rabbi Sacks’ second comment regarding managers following rules as opposed to leaders who have no rules. Forgiveness leads to repentance and renewal, however that does not mean leaders lead in a vacuum sans rules. Leaders are expected to be innovative, trail blazing and thinking outside the box, however leaders are also held accountable by the choices they make. Though managers are expected to follow the rules as it regards organizational hierarchy, they are just as capable of leading and in a healthy organizational environment should be encouraged to do so. Rabbi Sacks z”l teaches “Leaders lead. That does not mean to say that they do not follow.” (Lessons in Leadership. 2015. p.48) Herein lies a framework for encouraging others to lead, managers too.
My choice for renewal came about as a result of taking stock of the choices I made professionally. Overtime I allowed myself to get stuck in a routine that prohibited my all-around growth, and as Erica Brown puts it: for the sake of keeping things at bay. Having a leadership position that paid me well, and allowed me to take part in areas of Israel engagement that are important to me, gave me the impression of fulfillment. Overtime I realized that my day-to-day responsibilities, and the objectives I achieved may have rewarded my ego, but did not satisfy my essence.
There came a defining moment in my life, I call it a mid-life awakening, when I realized I needed a change – I needed renewal. The process led me to pursue my passion for education and thought leadership by applying to the executive doctoral program at the Davidson School of Education. Following my acceptance to the program, a couple of years later I decided to resign from my professional leadership role in order to become more self-aware of my full range of potential. I am training to become a different kind of leader, and I have learned that leadership is what you make of it. It requires difficult choices, the desire to grow, and knowing when it is time for change. Erica Brown’s reflection on not knowing we have been imprisoned until we’ve broken out, is an undeniable truth. Judah decided to end his cycle of sin and misjudgment, by changing his ways and anchoring his leadership in humility and accountability. I believe that like Judah, no matter our past, or the cyclical routine we are stuck in, trusting renewal can lead to an awareness of potential we always knew existed, but suppressed for the comfort of keeping things familiar.