The Dark Side of Leadership; Delegation; and Learning from Guru Jethro

Living in a society where the expansion of technology has allowed us to slowly pull back the layers on leadership to see the holes and shadows within has made it hard to ever trust authority.

This guy was a great leader – but then we find out about the way he tips his waitresses when someone tweets about it. The sex scandals, email leakages and social media faux pas are just the loud ones – there are also the small ones, the minor lapses in judgement that happen to anybody in a position of responsibility, but blow up so much farther than ever before with the advent of digital technology.

Talmudic Sages say that a righteous person is measured to a stick as thin as a hair. When you’re under the microscope, the small things get blown into huge things, and then we turn around and wonder where all our leaders are, where the “good guys”, how come even the good ones have all kinds of skeletons and shadows in their closets?

Can we trust no one?

When a leader falls, she or he doesn’t just fall for the sake of their own spiritual path. They’re falling for the sake of the many, for those who learn from the plummeting descent, for those who are falling themselves and come to ask how to get back up, which the leader can only learn once they, too, have had to flap those wings and learn to fly again.

That doesn’t justify the pain that may have been caused in the leader’s fall. That doesn’t mean that the people they have wronged, the pain they have caused, is no longer there. It still exists, wrapped up in a black cloak of translucent darkness; pockets of nutrient-rich charcoal that can be used to fertilize and regenerate the surrounding growth and thus transforming the nature of the pain and suffering that was caused.

It’s undeniable that the recipients of pain by great leaders have suffered, and there is no justifiable reason. But the pain can be redeemed, and transformed, once they receive the apologies they deserve, once the righteous make the appropriate redemptions; and perhaps most impactfully, when we transcend our pain to make it a learning and healing experience for the world at large.

There’s a concept that it’s important to know how to fall, to know how to get back up again. Our greatest leaders are often those who fall the hardest, because they have the responsibility of teaching the others how to get back up again. Sometimes, they take the fall for the rest of us.

But when we can look at the pain inflicted by a leader or place of authority, and learn from it, that is when both we and our leaders can achieve true redemption. When we can look at someone who is meant to be a holy person, a spiritual person, a great leader, and thank them for the lessons they’ve taught us, even if they’ve come with pain, because now we can transcend it. When we can take those lessons and recraft a society where such pain cannot be perpetuated; when we can take the learnings and heal ourselves so we don’t fall again;  when we can learn from the highest ones how to get back up so we can clamber back up the jungle gym using the same techniques of movement.

It’s hard to accept the shadow of a person who’s been admired, to use our litmus test to acknowledge that although this person is a conduit of teachings for us, they may not possess a one-hundred-percent guilt-free existence. That’s just not the nature of humanity, even the highest of saints – for although their darkness may be for the pursuit of good, it’s still darkness. Of course, the trick is to take those dark passions and desires and channel them for goodness – turning anger into passion; sadness into dissatisfaction with the status quo; impatience into desire to get things done; frivolity into looking at the bright side of life. But in the meantime, the darkness is there, nutrient-rich as it may be.

In the book of Proverbs, it says that the righteous fall seven times before they get up. Each time they fall, they reach the bottom with wisdom and learnings to feed those at the foot of the mountain; and as they rise, they glean and feed simultaneously with their wings of love and awe.

True leadership is about learning from mistakes, building on them, and teaching them to your people so they, too, can avoid the same pitfalls. In Biblical trajectory of Moses, the quintessential leader, follows this path with tales of his Crash Course 101 in Leadership; beginning with growing up in a palace of the Pharoah, leading to a stint apprenticing one of the greatest gurus of the time, his father in law Jethro; moving into a partnership with his brother Miriam; and finally, this week, learning the toughest part of all: delegation.

Moses had the toughest role of all Jewish leaders: Dragging a group of kicking and screaming Jews, filled with logical arguments and used to the dictatorship of slavery, into a place of freedom and starting to build a new, functional society as a result. He was swamped. He was swarmed. And he was stressing the hell out.

So Jethro comes along, and like any good father in law, his first concern is for his daughter and her family, which is why he’s not so happy with son-in-law’s health status or working hours.

So he reminds said son-in-law that he’s been guru priest of the lands of Midian for many years and knows a thing or two about taking care of people.

“Delegate,” he tells Moses. “Set up judges, set up policemen, set up people below you and in between you so although everyone knows the buck stops with you, you don’t have to look after everything.”

Leadership is a dicey walk; a balance between delegation and caring about every minute detail – after all, the buck stops with you. It’s about placing trust in those you work with, learning from everyone who crosses your path, and remembering even when dealing with the most complex of lofty arguments that there’s a single individual farther removed from you who will be impacted by the decisions youmake.

It’s not an easy walk, but we’ve been learning from the best since the start of the book of Exodus. And as we walk with Moses, and see his development as a leader, we watch our own learnings as leaders of our homes, our communities, and most importantly, as leaders of our own destiny.

Shabbat Shalom.