The Genesis of Leadership: What the Bible Teaches Us about Vision, Values and Leading Change

The Genesis of Leadership: What the Bible Teaches Us about Vision, Values and Leading Change

by Nathan Laufer

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The rich lessons of the Bible can be your leadership guidebook.

Successful leaders don't rely solely on natural charisma and organizational authority as their tickets to success. Successful leadership is a learned art form and a developed discipline. You can master the art of leadership by examining the pitfalls and achievements of past leaders and

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The rich lessons of the Bible can be your leadership guidebook.

Successful leaders don't rely solely on natural charisma and organizational authority as their tickets to success. Successful leadership is a learned art form and a developed discipline. You can master the art of leadership by examining the pitfalls and achievements of past leaders and penetrating the stories of our cultural and religious heritage. The Bible is the ultimate resource for learning by example: its stories of family relationships, political beginnings and even divine encounters provide valuable lessons about leading effectively.

In this empowering guidebook, Nathan Laufer walks you through the stories at the very beginning of the Bible to examine the portraits of leadership success—and failure—they contain. He reveals the life-affirming values that the Bible uses to measure its leaders beginning in the Garden of Eden; analyzes the ups and downs in Abraham’s, and later Joseph’s, leadership journeys; and scrutinizes the many challenges faced by Moses—and God—in the books of Exodus and Numbers.

Laufer draws out from Bible stories the lessons we can use every day—lessons not only of exemplary leadership, but also of failing to lead, leading with no direction and leading in the wrong direction or to a destructive destination. Through Laufer’s interpretive lenses, these ancient stories come alive to inform and inspire our leadership today and offer us direction for the future.

"Nathan Laufer helps us see the stories of the [Bible] in new ways, he turns them into universal paradigms that relate to situations we all face every day, and he distills his insights into practical and powerful guidelines. There is no algorithm for leadership, no cookbook recipe, but it is hard to imagine a leader at any level of an enterprise whose capabilities will not be enhanced by studying this book."
—from the Preface by Dr. Michael Hammer

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Editorial Reviews

Congregational Libraries Today - Rabbi Louis A. Rieser

The Genesis of Leadership: What the Bible Teaches Us about Vision, Values, and Leading Change—Laufer, Nathan. Jewish Lights, 2006. 259p. $24.99, Hardcover. ISBN-10: 1580232418. ISBN-13: 9781580232418. 296.6'1 Leadership-Biblical teaching. Leadership-Religious aspects-Judaism. Bible. O.T.- Criticism, interpretation, etc.. Bible. O.T.-Genesis-Criticism, interpretation, etc.

"Turn it and turn it again, for all things are found in it." The ancient sages who described the Torah with those words would not be surprised to see the Torah held up as a text for teaching leadership skills. Nathan Laufer applies his experience at the Wexner Heritage Foundation in New York to teaching leadership skills through the medium of the Torah's tales. His trenchant understanding of both the Torah and the art of leadership makes this book worthy of notice.

Laufer's telling stretches from the first days in the Garden of Eden to the last days of Moses. He suggests that the stories of Genesis demonstrate the importance of building relationships between leaders and followers, of taking responsibility for one another, and for rooting one's leadership in positive values. He describes the narrative of Exodus as modeling ten positive rules for good leadership, while Numbers highlights eight challenges that leaders face. In presenting the lessons of Deuteronomy, Laufer notes the importance of evaluating a leader's success, providing for succession and assuring continuity for the future.

Lovers of the Bible and aspiring leaders will benefit equally from Laufer's insight. Read it, learn from it, see the tales of the Torah in a new light, then read it again. Many lessons remain to be learned. - JEN GLASER

In a moment of personal reflection and disclosure in the second section of The Genesis of Leadership, Rabbi Nathan Laufer speaks to the Janus-like vision of good leaders. Visionary leaders develop a double gaze; one looking back seeking to understand the significance of the past, the other looking forward toward the future: "The past becomes a refracting mirror" through which we establish benchmarks and insights that enable us to better interpret the significance of the present and to construct a vision for the future. Laufer notes that this double vision, central to his own role as past Director and CEO of the Wexner Heritage Program, underlies the very conception of their programs. In his book, Laufer offers us a different form of this dual vision, one that turns to contemporary leadership theory as a refracting mirror through which to explore the richly textured narratives of the Bible, and through this to establish benchmarks and insights to interpret our own lives and construct our own understanding of good leadership. In doing this, Laufer embodies a core quality of the visionary leadership that he espouses.

Divided into four sections, The Genesis of Leadership traces the slow unfolding of leadership as God and humanity mature through the biblical narrative. Laufer is quick to point out that we can learn as much from the pitfalls and failures of leadership illuminated in these early stories as we can by their successes. To that end, Laufer connects narrative threads across different episodes in the lives of the central characters to illustrate the many ways biblical figures grow into their identity as responsible leaders.

The first section focuses on leadership qualities displayed (and absent) within the personal and familial relationships of Genesis. This section revolves around "three concentric circles" of responsibility: for myself and my own actions; for those with whom I have established relationships; and for others falling within the orbit of my influence. The flip side of this responsibility is trust; leaders need to communicate to those under their command that they are valued and won't be exploited and that they are being led somewhere worthwhile.

The second section of Laufer's book explores Exodus through the lens of ten guiding principles of leadership drawn from contemporary leadership theory (including Michael Hammer's Reengineering the Corporation and Jim Collins’ Good to Great). This section offers a rich and sustained analysis of Moses and the people who shaped his destiny from birth through the rebellion at Mt. Sinai. Based on the work of philosopher Peter Koestenbaum, Laufer characterizes courageous action as a principle of leadership: “the preparedness to autonomously choose to tolerate maximum amounts of anxiety and uncertainty in the freely chosen pursuit of one’s convictions.” Anyone who has launched a school or led a process of change knows exactly what Laufer is talking about!

The third section shows how Moses adapts and responds to the challenges of transforming a people into a nation. Leadership requires that we not only have a vision for a better future, but that we make and act upon critical judgments. Here Laufer poses eight recurring challenges addressing some of the harder moral and political dimensions of leadership, including issues of dissent, the misuse of power, and challenges of institutional organization. The final section, “The Legacy of Leadership,” asks what a leader needs to attend to in order to ensure smooth succession. Here Laufer focuses on the tasks of leaders as their period of leadership ends—evaluating success, transferring leadership, and recording one’s legacy. This book provides us with a rare opportunity to bridge the worlds of leadership theory and the Bible, taking the reader in new directions and planting seeds for further thought.

This essay is reprinted with permission from Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, December 2006.

Union of Liberal & Progressive Synagogues - Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh

The Genesis of Leadership: What the Bible Teaches us about Vision, Values and Leading Change by Nathan Laufer. Foreword by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. Preface by Dr Michael Hammer. Witnesses to the One: Spiritual History of the Sh'ma by Rabbi Joseph B. Mezler. Foreword by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information, Contemplation. Edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins with section introductions from Arthur Green's These Are The Words.

The Genesis of Leadership is in some ways just another self-help guide for those who wish to be effective managers and leaders in their chosen field; but in other ways it is very different for it is written by a rabbi and informed and under-pinned not by meaningless management speak but by the stories, principles and teachings of the Hebrew Bible. The book is divided into four sections, In the Beginning…: Relationships, Responsibility and the Primacy of Values in Leadership; The Ten Guiding Principles of Leadership; The Challenges of Leadership; and The Legacy of Leadership. Each section is divided into sub-sections, all touching base with biblical incidents and individuals. This is a thought provoking read, and not just for managers either!

From the Publisher

"A practical and inspiring vision of what it means to lead…. Anyone in a position of leadership or who aspires to be should read this perceptive, refreshingly frank and clearly written book."
Dennis Prager, nationally syndicated talk-show host and author of Why the Jews? The Reason for Anti-Semitism

"Educational, instructive, profoundly inspirational…. A must read on political science, organizational and administrative theory, and leadership development. Few have added more intellectual heft and originality to this topic. Helps us to rethink the struggle for leadership and its authentic realization in groundbreaking new ways."
Dr. Ellen Cannon, professor of political science and public policy at Northeastern Illinois University and CEO of Cannon Consulting Group

“Draws connections and gleans insights that are unlikely to have occurred even to experienced students of leadership or of the Bible. A unique read that will leave readers thinking long after they've finished turning the last page.”
Dr. Daniel Gordis, director of Mandel Leadership Institute

“Draws masterful lessons from familiar stories…. Extends far beyond the functional; it illustrates the essentiality of values-based leadership. A must read for the leaders of our community and those aspiring to leadership positions.”
Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, professor, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University; former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel

“A wealth of insights…. Provides genuine wisdom for which all engaged in the task of inspiring and directing a group or an organization will be grateful. An important book.”
Rabbi David Ellenson, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

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Jewish Lights Publishing
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