Leadership is the action of moving followers to reach a desirable goal. By
definition, it is the culmination of three components:
A. A well-defined
B. Leader-followers interactions.
Often, discourse on leadership occupies the public
arena when the followers, or their self-appointed mouthpieces – the media – are
frustrated and perceive a weakness, a vacuum, a tough, turbulent time, or feel
they are at a cross-roads that calls for a charismatic personality to take the
reins and make decisions.
Media deal mostly with the political and
economic arenas, but leadership is manifested in all aspects of life, from small
households to industry and wars. Periods and environments may differ, but core
qualities are persistent.
I will give three personal examples from
completely different occasions that I was lucky to witness.
I grew up in
central Jerusalem, just above the “Knesset Pit” near the modest Frumin Building
on King George Avenue that at the time was the site of the Knesset.
1952, this was the site of huge, violent demonstrations against the “Shilumim” –
the German reparations for the Holocaust.
In economically stressed new
Israel this was a struggle between fiscal needs and principles.
Begin, then in the opposition, moved the crowds with his thundering oratory. It
was an almost cliché of a classic political mob scene: A charismatic leader in
front of thousands of devotees working the crowd up in the name of principles
and national pride.
Following the output of adrenaline, Begin withdrew to
the home of Mrs. Zeitz – a veteran Revisionist, to rest. As her good friends’
child, I was privileged to stand at the salon (living room) door watching in awe
as Mrs. Zeitz served the great man tea with homemade refreshments (some were
prepared by my mother who was an excellent baker).
She created an escape
to relax for Begin, a warm womb, approached him with deference and made sure
that everybody kept their distance from the leader.
He was aloof and did
not make any effort to “be nice.”
Begin was the epitome of hod ve’hadar
(majesty and splendor) and maintained distance and formalities, even in a homely
place of refuge.
In the early 1950s, the standard of living was lower and
leaders made a point to demonstrate their perception of popular standards. Even
Begin’s nemesis – David Ben- Gurion – wore baggy khaki outfits in public, when
he walked down King George Avenue from his residence to the Knesset. If he had
bodyguards, they were invisible, but nobody tested whether they were
Basic standards, those of the common people, were evolving
Israel, but we – parents and children alike – felt that the leaders deserved
more for their efforts on our behalf, even when it was just the extra comfort of
a cup of tea served in respected solitude.
When I served in the Golani
Brigade’s 13th Battalion as a combat doctor during the 1967-1970 War of
Attrition, I was fortunate to serve under Lt.-Col. Amir Drori, the battalion’s
commander. Soldiers followed him under fire with their “eyes shut” – with
extreme confidence. Amir exuded self-confidence, which was based on his track
During the 12 months of the War of Attrition during which we
circled between the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights and the northern and
central sections of the Suez Canal, the battalion suffered only one death (an
officer), mostly thanks to Amir, who knew how not to get into trouble so that we
did not have to heroically get out of it.
Amir did not mingle with
soldiers. He made it clear that he was not a “sahbak” – a friend. As the doctor,
I was the closest to his age and from time to time (very seldomly), Amir opened
a window into the loneliness of the leadership role. Loyalty was bi-directional
On my first day in the battalion, I extracted a piece
of shrapnel from a sergeant’s knee that for some reason was not diagnosed by the
orthopedists in the hospital.
The sergeant showed the shrapnel to his
peers as proof that he was not malingering, and exaggerated the stories about
“the genius new doctor.”
Since then, I performed dozens of small
surgeries in the field, not all of them “according to the book.”
the patients became infected and the civilian surgeon insisted on an
Amir did not say “I am busy fighting.” He went to at least two
generals, armed with accurate statistics, corroborated by external sources. He
backed me up fully. He stood by me against medical and other bureaucracies, and
we won (indeed, we were also right).
Fast forward to another culture and
time: In the early 1980s, I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the annual
meeting of the (South) Korean “Rural” Psychiatric Society.
rural about the meeting, including the participants.
This was an
expression to denote that the association incorporated professionals who felt
excluded from an organization dominated by people from Seoul National
At the time, South Korea was still in the midst of a social
and economic transition.
The attitude of elitist excellence was
celebrated with no apologies or affirmative action. Democratic, equitable
conditions in education and the work place still did not prevail. If a Korean
youth wanted to be an executive and enjoy the perks of the position, he had to
make his way through the best and most exclusive schools.
fierce and few made their way to the top.
I was told that it was common
knowledge that rejection, at any level, was a career-ending obstacle. I was also
told that the season of admission results was the high season for suicides among
Grooming young, aspiring leaders for the future included
allowing attitudes and behaviors that would be considered raucous and outlawed
for those who were groomed – or doomed – to be followers and
I wonder if the early distinction between the leadership
class and the accepting others contributed to the amazing leap forward of South
Korean competitiveness, innovation and economy.
Furthermore, did the
gradual infusion of American egalitarianism contribute to the Korean slowdown?
Many of the “rural” Koreans were excellent by every measurable index. They
worked hard to promote their institutes and themselves. They were ambitious,
innovative and consistent, while still maintaining their traditions and respect
A cultural example: At the Korean gala dinner, I sat at
the head table with the president of the association, who was sitting with a
young, attractive “service girl.” Following the main course, the president and
his companion disappeared for quite a while.
Dessert was not served. When
they resurfaced at the table, all the guests applauded, the happy president
bowed, made a toast and the celebration continued.
Nobody else left the
tables during his absence, nobody complained, nobody joked.
This was the
elected leader’s prerogative.
What are the limits of perks, if any? What
are the dividing lines between privileges, adequate conditions for performance
of complex representation and tasks, and “perks?” What are the acceptable
interrelations between leaders and followers? Does the leader determine the
rules of the relationship and do the followers have any say, beyond complaining
and publishing criticism? It seems that success is the North Star of public
satisfaction and endorsement of leadership, but who determines success, and how?
With a well-defined, widely accepted goal, a perception that the leader holds a
functioning compass, knows the way and knows how to get there, followers should
be reasonably happy. Failure of the current leadership is the mother of new
The writer is chairman of the WPA Section on
Interdisciplinary Collaboration, chairman of PEMRN and professor and director of
BioBehavioral Research in SUNY-AB. He is currently a Fulbright scholar for MENA
regional studies. The opinions expressed here are his own, and do not reflect
and are not endorsed by the Fulbright Program or any other US agency.