Michael J. Lawrence
Nonprofit Parasha - On Leadership, Philanthropy & Community

It’s Time For Leaders To Meet The People

Tips for leaders in the face of an unrelenting corona pandemic, economic agony and social distress that together are pulling at the once-tight stitching along the edges of society.

The newly appointed CEO of a company arrives at work on that first official morning and she is greeted by a member of the Executive Team. Welcomed cheerfully, they walk toward the elevators in the lobby of the building. Upon entering the elevator, the greeting party of one takes an electronic card from his shirt pocket, swipes it across a sensor pad and then presses 32, the floor where they will find the exquisite, floor-wide executive offices and the CEO’s new home away from home.

As the elevator accelerates smoothly and heads skyward, the said greeter passes the elevator card to the new arrival and grins: “This card is your shortcut in and out of the building. It blocks any stops on other floors. No need for delays and unnecessary interactions on your way up and down. A little welcome gift just for you”.

The CEO is taken back. Flabbergasted.

“I appreciate the gesture. Still, please have the card returned. I’ll be very much happier with a standard card. I’m more than happy to wait my turn at the elevator and look forward to those random exchanges and touchpoints with folks on the team”.

Not sure who was more stunned by these first moments in the new role.

This is a fabulous story, one that I recall reading recently online and wish I could locate it again. It should be placed somewhere in those guidebooks on leadership, management and mentoring. Certainly as part of any training on organizational change and company culture.

“Provide for yourselves distinguished men, who are wise, understanding, and well-known to your tribes, and I shall appoint them as your heads”. (Deuteronomy 1:13)

Moses, leader and prophet, begins on this Shabbat his final address to the nation of Israel as they stand ready to enter the Promised Land. Without him.

As he crisscrosses the history of the nation thus far, their travels since Egypt, their errors of judgement and rebellious actions along the way, he recalls the process that took place some time ago toward appointing judges, leaders to thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.

In the sentence above where he shares some of the required characteristics of these said judges, one element catches my attention – first because it doesn’t appear in the original job description back in the Book of Exodus and second because it speaks so sharply to crucial elements of leadership, of management, of being “the boss”.

In her new role at this esteemed company, the CEO could easily have chosen to take that undisturbed ticket to ride – up and down from her office and avoid all “interference”. Today – we should expect more of ourselves and of those appointed or elected to make decisions, make policy, evaluate output, performance, and to identify opportunities for growth, pause or change in direction.

So too it was with the judges appointed then, thousands of years ago. In leaders, in those who would judge us and judge situations, we look for those who, as per Chapter 18 of The Book of Exodus, are accomplished, God-fearing people, people of truth, who despise money and as we read in this week’s Torah portion (Devarim), who show no favoritism in judgment, will listen to small and great people alike and who shall not tremble before any man”. They ignore the personalities.

But more than anything – a leader needs to know his or her people. The staff you manage and employ, the Board and organization you chair, the community you head and the country you lead. If you slip that electronic elevator card into your pocket and use it to skip tens of floors and thousands of colleagues, you are destined not only to never really know your company or organization but you are likely to make decisions that reflect that lack of intimate knowledge and human interaction.

And at some point, that impacts your success with customers, donors, stakeholders, your citizenry and your global partners.

No end of countries today are host to popular uproar in the face of an unrelenting corona pandemic, economic agony and social distress that together are pulling at the once-tight stitching along the edges of societies.

There is a growing intolerance for political tardiness and ambiguity in decision-making and policy that is required urgently to right tilting ships in so many harbors.

It is exactly times like this that those people in place to make, enforce and interpret the law need to be “well known to your tribes”. Leaders of the people, who have taken time to leave the quiet and safety of their offices, to stop off on every floor of the building and every level of society, spent time in various neighborhoods in the city and across the nation, to ensure they truly know the people, their concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams so that when they go back to the drawing board or the Board Room they carry with them with the knowledge and trust of a people.

For business, organizations, and governments – timely tips from a CEO who turned down a welcome gift and a people identifying leaders and judges of people.

About the Author
Michael Lawrence has been Financial Resource Development Unit Head and Chief Development Officer at The Jewish Agency for Israel since 2016. He is a qualified lawyer in Israel and in his native New Zealand and has lived in Israel since 2000.
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