Devarim 5780 – Before I Go

By: Dr. Bill Sutker

This is the first Parshah of the fifth book of the torah, Deuteronomy.  Because Israel’s primary duty to God is obedience of his laws, it is imperative that every Israelite be taught those laws. This is Moses’ main goal in Deuteronomy. Thirty-seven days before his passing, Moses begins his repetition of the Torah to the assembled children of Israel, reviewing the events that occurred and the laws that were given in the course of their 40 year journey from Egypt to Sinai to the promised land, rebuking the people for their failings and iniquities, and directing them to keep the Torah and observe its Commandments in the land that God is giving them as an eternal heritage into which they shall enter after his death.

Simon Sinek has said that transformative leaders are those that “start with why.” In the Devarim speeches, Moses gave the people their “Why”.

When we think of Moses, we think of an iconic image of him as a charismatic, chosen, and singularly powerful individual – the quintessential picture of a leader who knows exactly what needs to be done, when, by whom, and for how long. However, as the children of Israel move forward into Israel, perhaps a different kind of leader is necessary at this time of great challenge and change. The generation with the slave mentality is largely gone. The next generation of free men and women will look at things differently. We can learn about a new kind of leadership in a book by Liz Wiseman entitled” Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”.  Liz Wiseman’s core thesis is that there are two kinds of leaders, which she calls multipliers and diminishers.  A multiplier makes people around him or her better with more ideas, higher morale, higher productivity.  Everyone feels invested.  Problems are solved. There is a greater sense of team.  By contrast, a diminisher makes people around him or her worse with fewer ideas, lower morale, lower productivity. There is little sense of team.

She goes on to discuss other differences between the two types of leaders.  The first difference between a diminisher and a multiplier is that a diminisher thinks that he or she is the smartest person in the room and that “people won’t figure it out without me”. I am the genius.  I tell you what to do.  You do it. By contrast, a multiplier thinks that everyone in the room smart and then everyone can help figure it out. The multiplier does not want to be a genius, but a genius maker.  “I am not the smartest person in the room”.  I want to work with you so that you become the smartest person in the room.

Moses was described as the most humble man on the planet. Core humility leads to the second big difference between the diminisher and the multiplier. The diminisher tells. I am going to tell you what to do because I know what to do. By contrast, the multiplier asks or challenges or invites. The third crucial difference between the diminisher and the multiplier has to do with the vibe you create. The diminisher has the truth, makes the decisions, and tells people what to do. This leads to micromanagement, which leads to tension and anxiety. By contrast, the multiplier creates a liberating effect. By asking people what they think, by inviting their voices, by respecting their contributions, the vibe is not anxiety but curiosity, not tension but openness. We should assume that everyone has something to offer. Everybody has something to teach us.  Which kind of leader are you or your boss?  What about our politicians?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells us that in the last months of his life, Moses ceased to be the liberator, the miracle worker and Redeemer, and became instead Moshe Rabbenu,” Moses, our teacher.” Remember that when Moses began his career, he pleaded with God that he was not” a man of words”. However, after 40 years of teaching Torah, he has become an eloquent” man of words”. The change is not due to his improved rhetorical skills but to his enthusiastic commitment to its message. He was the first example in the history of a type of  leadership in which Jews have excelled: the leader as a teacher. Since Moses knew that the Israelites would one day suffer exile and persecution again, and since he would not be there to do miracles, he planted a vision in their minds, hope in their hearts, a discipline in their deeds and a strength their souls that would never fade.

As I mentioned, when someone exercises power over us, he or she diminishes us, but when someone teaches us, he or she helps us grow. That is why Judaism, with its concern for human dignity, favors leadership as education over leadership as power. We see this in Moses at the end of his life.

Gordon Tredgold wrote an article entitled: “If you want to become a great leader, become a great teacher”.  In the article, he notes that long gone are the days when leaders hoarded information for power. Today, leaders are also teachers who strive to share their knowledge to create better relationships and improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Great leaders do not wait for the perfect opening. They create teaching moments.

Even when faced with a crisis, an exemplary leader will influence and motivate no matter what. With both optimism and drive, the teacher sets an example and encourages others to work to his or her potential. In other words, a leader as a teacher will bring out the best in their team.

Leadership is not just about titles and ranks; it is also about setting positive examples and demonstrating that you are committed to your beliefs. Great leaders teach and lead by example.

When a team sees its leader or teacher modeling the right way to handle things, it will follow. Therefore, modeling is far more effective than giving a speech about it.

When you embrace the role of the teacher, you build loyalty, accelerate team development, and drive superior performance

The moral of the story is a leader should be a teacher first and a manager second. It is all about balance of knowing when it is the right time to teach and when is the right time to manage.

In the last month of his life, Moses summoned the next generation and taught them laws and lessons that would survive, and inspire them for all of time.

Teachers are the unacknowledged builders of the future, and if a leader seeks to make lasting change, he or she must follow in the footsteps of Moses and become an educator. The teacher as a leader, using influence not power, spiritual and intellectual authority rather than coercive force, was one of the greatest contributions Judaism ever made.