Maxwell’s Laws of Leadership and the Rebbe

Today I would like to talk about a really exciting topic- the jumping off point being a great book i downloaded for my phone by John C. Maxwell called the 21 Laws of Leadership- it even has an introduction by the author of the 7 habits of Eighly Effective People. When I was reading it, my thoughts drifted towards one of the greatest Jewish leaders of the modern era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. For example, see.....

# 20 - The Law of Explosive Growth -(create leaders, not followers) 

This one is is very near and dear t my heart, as it was to the Rebbe. The Rebbe liked to view all Jews as soldiers in G-d’s army, Tzivos Hashem, on a campaign to improve the world. In other words, making it a place where G-d himself would feel at home. One worthy of receiving the Messianic Age. However, he didn’t view them as mere foot soldiers; on the contrary, they are all generals. Generalship connotes being in charge of strategy, of organizing campaigns based upon prevailing conditions . 

Combine this with #12- The Law of Empowerment. 

In his campaigns,(note: he actually used this term, and invoked the military metaphor all of the time) the Rebbe set the overall approach and guidelines, but knew the damage that micromanagement by a high ranking executive can be to an organization. As a result, he sent literally thousands of couples on life- long assignments around the world. They were tasked to love their fellow Jews, by providing free material and spiritual services. This is the essence of Maxwell’s observation about effective leaders; they inspire and cultivate others. As a result, they can multiply their organizations exponentially, as opposed to going the linear path of simply adding followers. Napoleon Bonaparte helped to innovate this approach by training his field marshals to make decisions based upon his strategic principles. In this way, the field generals could rapidly adapt to changing circumstances without the need to relay questions up and down the lines. An example brought by Maxwell of someone ignorant of this principle is Henry Ford, who undermined his the most talented executives, who he felt threatened by. As a result, over sixty years ago Ford was hemorrhaging one million dollars a day!!  The creation of leaders is a wonderful indicator of the Rebbe’s selfless commitment to the success of Judaism; he was not into self-aggrandizement. 

check out this illuminating quote from the Rebbe's secretary of fourty years, Rabbi Krinsky: 
"He was both. He insisted that everyone, especially Chasidim, become self-efficient in terms of their study, and their outreach activities. He did not want to be consulted on every detail. In fact, he often quoted the Talmudic statement that it is human nature for individuals to want to be blessed with the achievements of their own making, and for that, they need to use their own initiative and their own G-d given talents and capabilities. " 

Law Number Four: The Law of Navigation 

This law is about guiding your organization, like a ship, through new trends and potential threats. Sun Tzu, and many other military thinkers, had a unique point of view with regard to challenges. As strategists, they viewed them as opportunities. Fellow leaders meeting the Rebbe were always shocked by his detailed knowledge of current events. I recently saw an interview with a former Israeli ministry official. He was shocked to discover that the Rebbe knew about Israelis’ lack of American currency in the 1970s, a serious liability and state secret. The Rebbe advised him not to worry about the lack of dollars; far more serious was the extraordinary high level of inflation, which was shifting on a daily basis. Soon afterwards, Israel began to develop into a leader in High-tech, and dollars poured in from abroad. 

#10 The Law of Connection-described by Maxwell as “asking for a heart before asking for a hand,” this one concerns choosing to rely on relationships, rather than on titles and formal power derived form one’s position. This necessarily entails knowing and caring about others’ hopes and dreams. Almost no one in history did this like the Rebbe, who answered a bag of (anecdotally) thousands of letters each day from his beloved followers. Although his answer sometimes took awhile if the question was not so pressing, each reply was personalized. In addition, the Rebbe validated people and showed that they mattered to him by never forgetting their names. There are a million stories about him recognizing someone he met fifty years earlier, and asking how their brother is doing, etc. What we remember is of course a consequence of that which is important to us. 

The last one for today is Law  21- the  Law of Legacy:

Today, we find four thousand couples officially representing the Rebbe, and countless others living his vision, residing throughout the world. Unlike other social movements with similar characteristics, most are committed to staying in their posts for as long as it takes to get the job done. Any great idea is ultimately measured by how long it lasts after the initial excitement wears off. Leaders must find people to carry on after their physical demise from this world. This, Maxwell points out has a lot to do with knowing who you are and why you are leading, with the explicit motivation of leaving the team better than you found it. This ideal can be seen from the very day that the Rebbe assumed the helm, when he taught a discourse by his predecessor, with additional commentary. The theme of the chassidic work, known as Basi le Gani, is refining the world to the point that G-d can realize His primordial desire, noted in the Midrash, of having a “dwelling place in the lower worlds.” What he was alluding to on this propitious day for agenda- setting was most ambitious; to realize the purpose of creation. A leader, according to Maxwell, is judged by their nerve in their goal -setting, and their can be no better example than to perfect the world and merit the coming of the Messiah. As the Arizal said, a generation that did not merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in its time, it is as if it was destroyed in their days. The previous temple was destroyed as a result of causeless intra-communal hatred among Jews. The phrase used to describe this is “causeless hatred,” but don’t let this imply that there is such a phenomenon as hatred that has a basis. Almost without exemption, hatred of one’s fellow Jew is ALWAYS baseless, and the way to reverse this collective blemish is through its precise opposite. “Baseless” love means loving a Jew merely by the fact that they are a part of your family, in the realization that a love based upon a “reason” is very shallow and selfishly oriented. May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days!!! 

So in conclusion, successful organizations are a product of a dialogue between the head honcho and everyone else. The executive must have an intimate sense of timing, intuition, and people skills. But the success of the group always boils down to the conduct of everyone else, and in this regard the leader is critical by setting the tone and forming meaningful relationships. 


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    Yaakov Grossman is a Jewish educator, author, private tutor/child care professional, and student in the Metro New York area. Professional inquiries should be addressed to

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    September 2011
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    Modern Orthodoxy