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What is Leadership? (Rosner Day 2)

From: Shmuel Rosner To: Dov Frohman Re: Leadership Dear Dov, I should first thank you for tolerating our differences with a smile. To be truthful, I was hardly expecting you to accept my interpretation of your book without protest, and … Read More

By / March 10, 2008

From: Shmuel Rosner

To: Dov Frohman

Re: Leadership

Dear Dov,

I should first thank you for tolerating our differences with a smile. To be truthful, I was hardly expecting you to accept my interpretation of your book without protest, and it should come as no surprise to you that I still see your description of leadership as somewhat unique to the Israeli psyche – and even more so to the psyche of someone with your personal background as a Holocaust survivor. But since we don’t want to bore our patient readers with the nuances of our different outlook on “leadership-survival” let me try and build upon both the book and your response as to raise another issue crucial to this discussion. You wrote:

I'm very skeptical about so-called leaders who have such a grandiose view of their own talents that they never imagine something going wrong.

And in the book you say:

If a leader is too focused on his own personal survival as head of the organization, he may end up, paradoxically, undermining the organization’s long-term capacity to survive.

My problem here is twofold: First, I don’t see the paradox. It is quite clear even to a non-leader like myself that personal agendas can unhinge on organizations’ – or, more importantly, countries’ – chances to survive. Second – and this is where I see a more acute problem in your argument – what you say may apply to a rare (and possibly extinct) type of leaders. Most leaders I know – and I’ve been following mostly political leaders both in Israel and in the US – can hardly differentiate between their survival and the organizations’. They tend to think that for the organization to survive they need to stay at the helm. One can look at it as a questionable pursuing of narcissistic agenda, but I tend to think about it as human nature – as one of the things is inherent to the leaders’ mind. I say all this, as I want to try and drag you to a discussion of Israel’s political leadership and how your book might apply to their skills and faults. Take, for example, the decision made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not to resign after the relative failure of the second Lebanon war. On the one hand – he was definitely pursuing what you might consider an agenda that’s “too focused on his own personal survival”. On the other hand he will say to you that for him to stay was the right thing to do for the benefit of the “organization”. And here I go back to your response and to your “skeptical” view of leaders who have a “grandiose view of their own talents”. Does Olmert fall into this category when he decides to stay – or maybe he is right by assessing by staying he can help the organization – in this case the military, the country, the government – be better prepared for the next round, hence increasing its chances of “survival”. My point here is this: in many cases, differentiating between the “grandiose” and the “talent”, between the “personal” and the “organizational” is a very tricky business. More often than not, this can only be done after the fact, in hindsight. I was making similar point writing about your decision to leave Intel Israel opened during the first Gulf War. It made you a leader, because no one was hurt. That brings me to the point with which I will conclude this letter. You write (again, in your response) that “leaders should be accountable for their failures,” hinting that had something gone wrong with your risky decision in the Gulf War you’d have paid the personal price. I’d suspect that you might say the same thing about the political leadership responsible for dragging Israel into Lebanon – a reasonable “calculated risk” in the eyes of most people when the decision was taken, that turned out to be not well enough calculated. But here is the dilemma with which Israelis now must cope, and to which you do not give sufficient answer: is it more important to make sure that a leader is “accountable” – meaning, pay a personal price for the failure (or lack of success) in this war? Or is it more important to again take a “calculated risk” and let him stay – as the other options do not seem very attractive to most Israelis?

Best,

Rosner

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