Thursday, September 1, 2011
Beware of Bad Leaders
People have come to believe that a leader is simply someone who is charismatic and good-looking. While neither of these qualities disqualify a person from being a leader, they are not as important as they are made out to be. Most external elements - especially physical vanities - are not necessities for leadership. So what exactly do good leaders possess that distinguish them from bad leaders? Well, there are many characteristics, but here's a brief synopsis of the most important.
For one, true leaders don't let their egos get in the way. The less a person cares about their own self-interest and the more they care about God and service to others, the greater they will be. Another characteristic found among true leaders is little to no arrogance. They do something because it is right, and not because it will make them more popular or powerful. True leaders also tend to be people who are fully dedicated to a cause that is greater than themselves.
There is yet another characteristic that is often overlooked: true leaders don't try to turn people into automatons. Rather, they guide others in a way that helps each individual fulfill their unique role in the world. When someone starts to pit white against black, religious against secular, or rich against poor, a red flag should be raised. Such people are doing what is in their own best interest, and the only leading they do is lead people against one another. They fail to understand that everyone has been placed on earth by God for a reason.
As Pirkei Avot states: "Beware of rulers, for they befriend someone only for their own benefit; they act friendly when it benefits them, but they do not stand by someone in his time of need" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:3). This concept generally refers to politicians, but it can extend to anyone who takes advantage of other people for the sake of attaining power. These "leaders" are fickle and unreliable at best, and emulate the ways of some of the worst people who have ever lived.
Despite the fact that most leaders are anything but noble, we should not resign ourselves to the cynical belief that there are no good ones. While healthy skepticism of anyone in a position of authority is imperative, there are still a lot of good leaders out there. We just have to find them. Otherwise, try to be one yourself. As another Pirkei Avot passage states: "In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be the leader" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:6). Nevertheless, keep in mind that the greatest leaders throughout history were those who came to power reluctantly. From Moses to George Washington, the best are those who are humble and do not seek control over others.
It's both sad and upsetting to see people hurt by bad leaders. Perhaps they falsely believed in the person because they had a particular title before their name. Or perhaps they thought that the person was wise because they attended some prestigious school. Or maybe they just got too caught up in their own religious denomination or political affiliation to see what kind of person they were actually following. Whatever the reason, enough is enough. For leaders, like for everyone else, character matters most.