Train leaders to think differently

It's time for a Global Jewish People Leadership Academy to teach multi-dimensional, dynamic thinking.

bush 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
bush 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In 1884 Edwin A. Abbott published his famous book Flatland, followed in 2001 by Ian Stewart's Flatterland. Leaving aside their mathematical and astrophysical contents, the main message of these books is that persons thinking in terms of one or two dimensions are unable to comprehend "depth" and cannot cope with multi-dimensional dynamics. I would like to apply this idea to political leaders, for diagnosis and treatment. A main concern of the Conference on the Future of the Jewish People held last week by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem was the quality of Jewish leaders, and ways to improve it. But the fateful importance of the matter requires sharper formulations and more operational proposals than fit into a conference. To put the conclusions of my studies and personal involvements bluntly, the world as a whole suffers from an abundance of flat leaders, with dismal consequences. In particular, dangerous expressions of flatness include thinking in terms of narrow slices of time instead of historic processes; focusing on the here and now instead of on the long-term future; seeing narrow segments of reality instead of holistic systems; a fixation on dogmas instead of pluralistic perspectives; tunnel vision instead of holistic views; focusing on a few factors instead of comprehending complex interdependencies; diagnosing what is on the surface instead of penetrating into underlying causes; trust in simple "solutions" instead of being skeptical about common sense answers to multifaceted predicaments; dealing with tactics instead of crafting grand-policies; and so on. GRAVE POLICY fiascoes unavoidably result from flat, top-level leadership. This is harshly illustrated, to pick just three major illustrations out of very many, by indiscriminate American promotion of democracy irrespective of local conditions and cultures; European Union soft policies toward Iranian nuclear activities; and the gross inadequacies of global environmental policies. Regrettably, flatness also characterizes the vast majority of Jewish, including Israeli, leaders. However, while other societies and countries can bear the costs of having flat leaders, we do not have this luxury. Our margins of existence are too narrow and the preconditions for thriving too demanding to permit the Jewish people to have a large majority of flat leaders, with all too few exceptions. Rather than provide examples of the many tragic consequences of flat leaders throughout Jewish history, let me be constructive by mentioning a few domains requiring grand policies which can be crafted and implemented only by non-flat leaders, before irreversible failures hit us:
  • Israel-Diaspora relations look good, but are sure to deteriorate in the longer run unless radically novel integrative policies are adopted;
  • rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state is deeply rooted in most Christian and Islamic cultures, its absence being an exception which cannot be relied upon for long. This requires building up much more soft and hard power of global reach together with intense policies directed at rising powers without Christian or Islamic traditions;
  • globalization and IT enable new ways to network the Jewish people and novel forms of "part-aliya," but these require multi-dimensional visions of new types of virtual Jewish communities;
  • large-scale assimilation in the Diaspora and dilution of the Jewish nature of Israel are "normal" for the majority of the non-Orthodox, requiring the development of new meanings of Jewish peoplehood appealing to post-postmodern generations and new modalities of education, rather than more of the same;
  • stabilizing Israel in the Middle East is a matter for generations, requiring from the Jewish people as a whole and Israel in particular a complex combination of patience, peace-making efforts, conflict management, peak military capacity, socioeconomic thriving, scientific and technological excellence, and an ethos of willingness to kill and die while seeking peace. ALL THESE require peak-quality leaders devoid of "flatness" and being instead deeply multi-dimensional. This is a hard but not impossible requirement. Quantitatively, a couple of hundred leaders will be critical in shaping the future of the Jewish people between thriving on one side, or decline, dissipation and even a new Shoah on the other. If at least half of those leaders are deeply multi-dimensional it may well be enough to make the difference and achieve a long-term trajectory toward thriving. Qualitatively, given high motivation and good brains, as most Jewish leaders and leadership candidates have, intense development activities can provide them with cognitive patterns, mental maps, concept packages, pluralistic frames, holistic comprehension and thinking modalities assuring a good measure of deep multi-dimensionality. However, this will require novel methods of leadership development. Particularly essential is the acquisition of practical wisdom in applying deep multi-dimensionality to critical Jewish People issues. This requires clinical learning in conjunction with a high-quality policy planning think tank (best illustrated by the unique Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, California, though much adjustment to developing political leaders rather than policy professionals is required), in additional to more conventional learning modes. LEANING ON recommendations of last week's conference but radicalizing and concretizing them, my suggestion is to start immediately with designing and setting up a Global Jewish People Leadership Academy, where present leaders will engage in mentored self-improvement and future leaders will be developed, with emphasis on the young and special attention to increasing the supply of qualified women leaders. Intense study periods of two months to one year, with a variety of follow-up activities, would significantly upgrade the quality of Jewish (including Israeli) leaders. Assuring deep multi-dimensionality would be a central task of the academy, together with facilitating other necessary leadership behaviors and qualities, conveying relevant knowledge and training in needed skills. My guesstimate is that a foundation of, say, $200-300 million would meet the initial needs of the Academy and its affiliated think tank. I cannot imagine a more cost-effective investment in the future of the Jewish People. The author is founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (established by the Jewish Agency) and professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.