Denes Ban
Israeli tech entrepreneur-turned-investor on the weekly parshah

The Secret to Great Leadership – is it what you think? (3min)

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The American Business Magazine Inc., recently published the results of one of the largest studies on successful leadership. It was based on more than 330,000 bosses, peers, and subordinates. The study attempted to boil down what it truly takes to be that ever elusive: “Great Leader”.

The study’s top findings were that great leaders are people who (1) have a grand vision that inspires and motivates others, (2) have integrity; they walk their talk, (3) are skilled problem solvers, (4) have the highest level of perseverance and drive, and (5) communicate powerfully and prolifically.

Even without the feedback of 330,000 people, I think the majority of us, when thinking about leadership, would likely list something quite similar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Moses is nearing the end of his life and looking for the next leader of the Jewish people. One who can take an epic people and lead them into the ‘Promised Land’ and a new era of sovereignty. Moses asks G!d to help in appointing someone with the qualities he deems as the most critical for excellent leadership:

“Moses spoke to the Lord, saying: ‘Let the Lord, the God of spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go forth before them and come before them, who will lead them out and bring them in…’”

In fact, these sentences are dissected in depth by the Sages, just see Rashi (Numbers, 27:15-19) and it appears that Moses is requesting, some three thousand years earlier, similar results as found in Inc. Magazine: he wants someone with vision, integrity, communication-, and problem solving skills.

However, it is G!d’s response to Moses that is perhaps the most revealing:

“The Lord said to Moses, “Take for yourself Joshua the son of Nun, a man of spirit…”

Hang on, a man of spirit? Out of all the things a leader needs, why does G!d highlight this? and wait, didn’t Moses just addressed G!d as “…. the God of spirits”?

Cue Rashi (quoting the Midrash) to save the day: “Moses asked God, “Master of the universe, the character of each person is revealed to you, and no two are alike. Appoint over them a leader who will tolerate each person according to his individual character.”

Both Moses and G!D understood that one of the most important tasks for a leader is to truly relate to each person ACCORDING to their unique, individual needs.  

The Torah highlights here something unique, even to the largest study on leadership to date: Great Leadership involves not just integrity, vision, communication skills etc. It is the ability to understand different peoples’ interests and motivations and the skillfulness to use these to effectively motivate people towards a shared goal.

Some people may be motivated by intellectual challenge, others by status, some are motivated by money, others by power, some by being part of a larger goal, and others just want to do the right thing. Some people thrive under pressure while others need love and praise, some need autonomy, and some need criticism etc. Possibly the most unique challenge for a leader is to understand and then harness what motivates each and every person.

Stephen Covey, arguably one of the greatest leadership educators of our time, writes that the real challenge of effective leadership is motivating one’s team members. He concludes that leaders have to treat their employees just as they treat their customers: as VOLUNTEERS, because that’s what they are. He explains: “You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”

Joshua had probably the toughest act to follow in all of History. He was coming after the man who ‘freed everyone from slavery, talked directly to G!D, performed open miracles, and the list goes on. Joshua would now be responsible for leading thirteen individual tribes – each tribe with their own skill sets, motivations, and needs; and he could not “buy” the people’s hearts. He had to be able to intuit the desires and talents inside each of them, foster them, and then to lead them towards a shared Vision/Goal.

With this in mind, our new “great leadership” profile might read:

1.Treat each of your team members as volunteers.
2.Identify the unique motivators for each member of your team: what is it that drives them and what can motivate them to walk that extra mile, to align themselves with the Vision/Goal – because they are volunteering their best parts – their hearts and minds.

Whether you are leading a business, a social group, a family, or a Nation, it is this attention that could lead your team to their ‘Promised Land’.

About the Author
Denes Ban is the Managing Partner of OurCrowd, Israel’s leading venture capital fund. A serial entrepreneur turned serial investor, he founded and sold an HR company and co-founded PocketGuide, one of the world’s leading travel apps. Denes has lectured at Harvard, Kellogg, and INSEAD and trained thousands of CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world. After growing up without knowing he was Jewish, Denes found his way to a Yeshiva in Jerusalem and learned Torah for two consecutive years before returning to the business world. Now he uses his experiences representing Israel in Asia to share examples of what it can mean to be a Jew in the 21st c and writes a weekly blog that has spread to countless subscribers, combining the world of business, technology, philosophy, and psychology with his insights into Judaism and Zionism.
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