Leadership is the action of moving followers to reach a desirable goal.

July 4, 2013 20:19
Menachem Begin

Menachem begin giving speech 370. (photo credit: gpo)

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 goal.

B. Leader-followers interactions.

C. Goal-oriented productive actions.

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.

In 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.

Menachem 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 needed.

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 record.

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 and reciprocated.

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.”

One of the patients became infected and the civilian surgeon insisted on an inquiry.

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.

Nothing was 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 University.

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.

Competition was 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 young people.

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 underlings.

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 for leadership.

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 leadership.

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.

Related Content

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U
August 17, 2019
Confronting Democrats


Cookie Settings