Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has had a long and distinguished career in the rabbinate — he recently retired from the position of Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the United Kingdom — and has shown himself to be an articulate and consummate speaker and writer about Judaism and Jewish ideas. He has authored over two dozen books as well as a particularly well-received series has been the “Covenant and Conversation” essays based on the weekly Torah portion that are now being published in book form. Whereas these essays have focused on varied themes and ideas, Lessons in Leadership, also arranged according to the order of the traditional public Torah readings, looks upon the contents of Scripture through the lens of searching for lessons and themes of leadership. The book’s essays for the most part are independent of one another, and therefore the relevant portion can meaningfully read week by week.
In his introduction to this book, Rabbi Sacks notes that an early point during his time as Chief Rabbi, upon being confronted with various challenges he and his staff would sit and study Torah together, searching in appropriate texts for ways to address the problems that they were facing. Therefore at least some of the discussions in this book reflect more than the theoretical musings of a profound contemporary rabbinic figure, but rather the applied products of significant chevruta (study partner) interactions between himself and his staff, as they together attempted to ascertain what the Torah’s guidance might be regarding their communal and professional dilemmas.
The introduction also notes that Rabbi Sacks thinks of this book as a “belated thank you” to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who, he explains, set him on the road to a career in the rabbinate when they met shortly after the Six-Day War, while Rabbi Sacks was still at university. Upon listening to the young student’s description of the problems affecting Jewish life at Cambridge, the Rebbe said to him “If these are problems that are concerning you, it is your obligation to try to do something about them.”
Rabbi Sacks’ approach in these essays is familiar to those acquainted with his other works. Aside from the very specific leadership lessons that are derived from the various Parashiot, a particularly striking aspect of his presentations is the rich array of sources and examples from which he draws as he develops his ideas. Rabbi Sacks does not confine himself to only major Jewish figures, but includes personalities from the world of politics, art, academia, history and business. In addition, his presentations are peppered with the wisdom of various leadership experts, one of whom, Professor Heifetz, contributes an engaging forward to the book. A particularly intriguing distinction that the author makes a number of times is between “technical” and “adaptive” leadership: the former involves the logistics of providing for the needs of one’s followers; the latter concerns how to change people’s attitudes and desires. Rabbi Sacks repeatedly states that while there may be no substitute for being a “technical” leader, the true challenge of leadership confronting the personalities of the Bible involves learning how to be an adaptive leader.
- Works by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
- Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies Jewish Leadership Reading List
- From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership by Hal M. Lewis