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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur and the prerequisites to positive leadership under the Jewish faith

Today is Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement; the most solemn of the Jewish holidays.

Yom (Day of) Kippur is a breakthrough Jewish contribution to humanity. It highlights the most essential human attributes, which constitute prerequisites to positive leadership: humility (as featured in the Netaneh Tokef prayer), soul-searching, recognizing fallibility, confessing wrong-doing, asking and granting forgiveness, accepting responsibility, collective responsibility, magnanimity. Yom Kippur is not driven by punishment, but by behavioural-enhancement.

Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, which is an ancient word for forgiveness and Genesis. Ten has special significance in Judaism: G-D's abbreviation is the tenth Hebrew letter, Ten Commandments, Ten reasons for blowing the Shofar, Ten Percent Gift to G-D (tithe), etc.

The prayer of Veedooi is recited Ten times during Yom Kippur, re-entrenching the genuine plea for forgiveness. The prerequisites for forgiveness, according to Jewish Sages, are the expression & exercise (talking & walking) of confession (assuming full-responsibility), repentance and significantly altering one's behavior through the heart as well as through the head (no "buts," no "ifs" and no plea for mitigating circumstances). King Saul sinned only once – ignoring the commandment to annihilate the Amalekites – but was banished from the crown and killed. King Saul raised mitigating circumstances, while responding to Samuel's accusation. King David sinned twice (The "Bat-Sheba Gate" and "Census Gate"), but was forgiven. King David accepted full-responsibility and unconditional blame and the death sentence (as expressed by Nathan the Prophet), which was promptly rescinded.

Tefila Zaka, the initial prayer on the eve of Yom Kippur, enables each worshipper to announce universal forgiveness. While transgressions between human-beings and G-D are forgiven summarily via prayers, transgressions among human-beings require explicit forgiveness. Ill-speaking of other persons may not be forgiven.

The Memorial Candle, commemorating one's parent(s), is lit during Yom Kippur. It reaffirms "Honour Thy Father and Mother," providing another opportunity to ask forgiveness of one's parent(s), as well as asking forgiveness on their behalf.

G-D's forgiveness and G-D's Covenant with the Jewish People are commemorated on Yom Kippur. It reflects the end of G-D's rage over the sin of the Golden Calf, and it was the day of Abraham's own circumcision, signifying G-D's covenant with the Jewish People.

Yom Kippur underlines unison, as synagogues become a platform for the righteous and the sinner.

The Scroll of Jonas is read on Yom Kippur. Its lessons demonstrate that repentance and forgiveness is universal to all Peoples, commanding one to assume responsibility, to get involved socially-politically, to sound the alarm when wrong-doing is committed anywhere in the world, to display compassion to all peoples and to adhere to Faith and Optimism, in defiance of all odds. It behooves good folks to roll up their sleeves, lest evil triumphs!

A long sound of the Shofar concludes Yom Kippur. It commemorates the covenant with G-D (the almost-sacrifice of Isaac), the receipt of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Liberty and anti-slavery (Jubilee) and the opening of G-D's gates of forgiveness.

Who was the real winner - the Lions or the Springboks?

Can heroic defeat ever surpass conventional victory? It is a question for life just as much as sport – must the outcome always define the whole experience?

Here is a fascinating article challenging the notion of what being a 'winner' in sport really means and highlighting the role of 'deft leadership' in building a successful team - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/britishandirishlionsrugby/6231056/Ian-McGeechans-Lions-show-that-you-can-win-even-when-you-lose.html

Magic Without Magic

Phil Jackson is the current coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson is widely considered one of the greatest coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). His reputation was established as head coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1989 through 1998; during his tenure, Chicago won six NBA titles. His next team, the Los Angeles Lakers, won four NBA titles from 2000 to 2009. In total, Jackson has won 10 NBA titles as a coach, surpassing a record he had shared previously with Red Auerbach, the former Boston Celtics coach.

In his coaching philosophy, Phil Jackson has made explicit what most great coaches and managers have understood intuitively, namely that the hardest challenge of leadership is to place the work where it belongs, resisting the impulse to take the work off of the shoulders of those who own the problem. His "spirituality," if you want to call it that, has enabled him to see the big picture even while he is in the midst of a heated moment.

One of Jackson's most memorable moments occurred in the Eastern Conference National Basketball Association finals between the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks in 1994, the year after Michael Jordan retired (for the first time).

Jackson's Bulls were desperately trying to show the world -- and themselves -- that they could win without Jordan. With the Knicks ahead in the best-of-seven series 2-0, the score was tied in game 3 with only 1.8 seconds left. Jackson called a time out to plan the last shot. Jackson called a play that had Scottie Pippin, the Bulls number one star post-Jordan, inbounding the ball to Tony Kukoc, the team's other big star, for the final shot. Pippin was angry that Jackson had not called his number and refused to take the floor as the timeout ended. Jackson sent in a reserve player, who made a perfect pass to Kukoc for the final and winning shot.

Right after the game, the Bulls' dressing room was thick with tension over the incident rather than with euphoria over the victory. Jackson walked in, said to the team, "What happened has hurt us. Now you have to work this out." And then he left.

Jackson's approach to management acknowledges what all good leaders know: that their job is to get others to take responsibility for the future of the organisation and not be seduced to believing the hype that they alone have the magic.

Leadership from Tiger Woods

Leaders and senior executives--here's a quote that will grab your attention. "I just can't wait until the season starts," said Tiger Woods, who won 7 events in 2007..."Obviously I've got a lot of room for improvement, which is great fun. My bad shots aren't as bad as they used to be. ...Just imagine if I could hit the ball the way I wanted to."

These words of wisdom appeared in the January 3, 2008 Sports section of The Washington Post. Tiger Woods believes that working towards his image of an improved self is fun. And in spite of all his accomplishments, he believes he needs to improve. The article also quotes other highly rated golf pros, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, as having spent time over the winter working to improve the details of their game.

Are you a leader with a passion for improvement? A leader who says "in spite of years of experience, I still have room to grow."

Just think about the message that attitude sends to everyone who looks up to you. It's a message about dynamism, commitment, enthusiasm and optimism. "We can continue to get better, there are new things under the sun, we will stay engaged and make a difference."

Communication behavior, including your presentation style, is rooted in habits and repetition. Do you ever look closely at your speaking style and ask yourself how you can improve your swing, hit the ball more accurately, and more consistently reach the green and the cup? Taking a look at yourself through the eyes of a coach--just like Tiger, Phil, Jim and Vijay do--will make a difference in how you communicate and win in the game of leadership.

What leadership tips have you taken from the world of sports? Preparation, sportsmanship, team development and the like?

Leadership Lessons from 1955

Here is an interesting article from the Financial Times, first published in November 2008:

'So there I was at one of those nice off-the-record dinners the other evening, discussing the financial crisis with various business figures. It was a good conversation, though some of the comments were a bit predictable. We all agreed, unsurprisingly, that “the long term” was what mattered in business. We did not agree what the long term was, or how we would know when we had got there.

I was lucky enough to be seated next to a distinguished business leader, the sort of person we used to call a Captain of Industry (CoI), when that term still meant something. The CoI participated fully in the evening’s debate, warning against the dangers of over-reacting to the crisis with excessive regulation.

‘You will always have something more to learn, so be prepared to profit by experience’

..Life in the boardroom is rarely easy or uncomplicated, he observed soberly. His first thought, on seeing friends and acquaintances struggle in the current conditions, was “There but for the grace of God...”

What really interested him, though, was the question of leadership. He told me that he had recently found a few notes in his attic, dating back to 1955, which he had been given as part of his officer training course at Eaton Hall, near Chester, in the north-west of England.

This CoI belongs to a generation that had to do National (military) Service, a practice that ended in Britain in 1960. (What our CoI had not bargained for back then was being sent to fight guerrillas in Cyprus in 1956, prior to being parachuted into Port Said during the Suez crisis later that year.)

He said he would send me a copy of these notes, and, in the manner of busy, successful people, he duly did the following morning.

No wonder historians are worried about the disappearance of documentary evidence now that everything is being e-mailed and text-messaged. These typed pages, with all their blotches and imperfections, summoned up the past. Some of the language felt a bit dated. There was a Trevor Howard/Celia Johnson quality to it: quaint and charming, but perhaps a little remote.

All the same, my CoI was right. I have rarely read such clear, purposeful and persuasive thoughts on leadership, delivered in only a few sentences. Making allowance for the fact that these notes were written in a military context, with only a few minor changes they could serve as a valuable aide-mémoire to any leader.

Leadership is “the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action”, the notes state. “The art of controlling them, directing them and getting the best out of them.” Yes, I know. “Controlling” is not very 2008, is it? But this is the army we are talking about. Come to think of it, a bit more control in the banks in recent years might not have been such a bad idea.

Leaders have to make decisions and stick to them “regardless of popularity or of difficulties”. But: “Orders must be constantly renewed and, once they have become inapplicable or out of date, they must be abolished.” So no harmful rigidity there.

“The leader must know and understand his men and treat them as human beings.” Tick. “An officer must want to lead. He must be proud of his command.” Tick. “The leader must have his heart in his job and be cheerful and enthusiastic even when conditions are difficult and the task unpleasant...The leader must be loyal to both his superiors and to his men. He must inspire loyalty.” Tick and tick again.

The notes contain a special section on “man management”. Some of this stuff feels quite radical, a) for 1955 and b) for the army. See what you think: “The business of man management takes time and it requires the taking of infinite trouble ... you cannot deal with material you know little or nothing about. Your men are your material; you must know all about them ...You must give each one individual study and be prepared to make an individual approach to each. You must be something of a psychologist.”

‘Being a leader is a big job, a fine job and a thoroughly worthwhile job. See that you become one in the best sense of the word’

..Getting relationships right with team members will require a leader to, among other things, “put their interests before your own”, “be their champion but also their chief critic”, “know their names and use them”, “be yourself and don’t act a part”, and “be self-critical”.

Do all this, and you’ll be an ideal leader? No. “You will always have something more to learn,” the notes conclude, “so be prepared to profit by experience.” And always remember: “Being a leader is a big job, a fine job and a thoroughly worthwhile job. See that you become a leader in the real and best sense of the word.”

Ninety years ago, the first world war ended. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were killed in that conflict – “lions led by donkeys”. Since then, arguably no organisation has learned and understood more about leadership than the British army. If you want to offer state-of-the-art leadership in 2008 these wise words from over half a century ago can help.'