Ownership Is Leadership

As Israel works to set up a new government—first with elections and then with the process of forming a ruling coalition—the direction the country will take next remains very much in the balance. Millions of Israelis have calculated who they believe will be the best leaders for their country and political parties such as The Jewish Home party (Habayit Hayehudi in Hebrew) have tried to present themselves as just that.

When looking at leadership, one of the most crucial elements is a willingness to take responsibility. Jeremy Gimpel, the Habayit Hayehudi candidate The Mideast Update interviewed last week, demonstrated his party’s acceptance of that mantel by staking out a clear and unmistakable stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Oftentimes, politicians like to remain as ambiguous as possible. Part of that is playing it safe for voters, and part of that is leaving room for compromise.

But sometimes it’s necessary to rule out the compromise one cannot accept, and thereby limit the level of ambiguity in one’s words. By speaking clearly, one takes ownership of one’s beliefs by risking public objection or attack.

So Gimpel spelled out his party’s absolute refusal to approve the creation of a Palestinian state within Israel. He pointed to it’s long-term damage by allowing millions of Palestinians from other countries to settle right on Israel’s borders, not to mention the “land for peace” model’s track record of producing more violence instead of peace.

That doesn’t mean his party is unwilling to compromise. The Jewish Home’s chairman, Naftali Bennett, has called for improving the economic situation for the Arabs in Israel, and Gimpel noted that dialogue with local Palestinian Arab leaders might produce solutions that two decades of talking with what he termed “propped-up” leaders has not.

In other words, Gimpel drew the lines in the sand around his Habayit Hayehudi’s plan for handling one of his nation’s most complicated issues. Instead of proclaiming a general “desire for peace”—which is still very true—or claiming an unspecified openness to “dialogue” with the Arabs, Gimpel stated clearly what they could and could not do.

In doing so, his party has given voters a clear choice. And in doing so, his party has accepted responsibility for their beliefs.

In the Biblical account of Joseph being sold by his brothers we see a sad failure in leadership by the oldest brother, Reuben, and the brother who would eventually take the lead, Judah.

Both men appear to have the good motive of wanting to rescue Joseph from being killed by the hot-headed and jealous brothers, but neither man is willing to spell out their beliefs and stake out their claims. Both urge their brothers not to kill Joseph, but both then make suggestions of compromise that demonstrate their fear of the other brothers.

Reuben says they should throw Joseph into a pit to let the elements do him in, all the while secretly intending to save Joseph later. While it’s true that sometimes hiding one’s intentions is necessary to do the best good, in this case Reuben is the oldest. He does have the authority to say, “No, he’s our brother and despite our issues we have to treat him as such.” But he didn’t. He doesn’t accept the responsibility for his real plan and the proof of that is he wasn’t willing to risk his brothers’ anger by using the leadership he had been given. Ultimately Joseph is sold as a slave while Reuben is gone, and his secretive leadership style fails miserably.

Judah acts similarly. He is the one who suggests selling Joseph to slavetraders—again, a noble motive of trying to save his life masked by a terrible suggestion. As the fourth born, Judah may have felt intimidated by his older brothers, but Judah is also the strongest leader in the group. He could have stepped up here. But he doesn’t.

Both Reuben and Judah then prove their unwillingness to take responsibility by lying to their father about Joseph, convincing Jacob that his beloved son has been killed by wild animals.

Years later, the brothers have repented and realize what they’ve done. Remorse has settled in. But Judah is the one who becomes the hero. How? By owning his leadership.

When Joseph, then the effective ruler of Egypt, tests the brothers’ repentance in carefully crafted ruse, he tells them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin if they want to buy more grain from Egypt during the famine.

It is Judah who takes the lead then. Jacob still is holding out in opposition to sending Benjamin, his youngest child, in fear something could happen to him as happened to Joseph. So Judah says that he will take responsibility for his brother. And how does he demonstrate this?

Whereas Judah lied to escape the blame for losing Joseph, this time he tells Jacob that if anything happens to Benjamin he will take the blame forever. In other words, Judah has learned that true leadership is shown by true ownership of one’s beliefs and actions—an ownership demonstrated by taking responsibility.

And it’s more than words. When Joseph’s plan calls for Benjamin to be accused of theft, it is Judah who stands up and begs Joseph to take him as a slave instead in order to rescue Benjamin. No longer is Judah trying to be a leader without personal risk. Now he risks it all because that’s what had to be done.

It works. Joseph sees Judah’s actions and realizes his brothers have truly changed. He ends his ruse, reveals himself to his brothers and all ends happily.

In our lives, it doesn’t always end happy. But Judah didn’t know that it would either. A true leader still takes responsibility.

So husbands should be willing to accept the blame for every decision made in the home rather than argue whose fault it is with their wives. Managers should accept responsibility for the actions of those beneath them, and those wanting to be leaders should be willing to spell out what their suggestions should do—stake their claims, as it were. Have a good idea or a firm belief in what your business, job or community should do? Say it clearly and express a willingness to be the fall guy if it flops.

Are you a leader? Accept responsibility and don’t hide what you believe is right. Want to be a leader? Be bold and say what you plan to do and honestly express a willingness to accept the blame if it fails. Ownership is leadership. To take leadership, you have to take responsibility.

There’ still room for compromise. But there’s never room for cowardice.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, January 22, 2013)