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


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 ...

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

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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!

Witness to the One is an inspiring consideration of the Shema in terms of its impact on Jewish history and thought as seen through the life and experience of 9 individuals: Moses, Akiba, Saadia Gaon, Maimonides, Haim Vital, Moses Luzzatto, Rav Kook, Leo Baeck and Heschel with a final chapter that ties all the preceding together and invites the reader to actualise the message and power of the Shema in their own lives. This is a marvellous source text for adult education, in terms of the Shema itself, but also as access to the thought of the author’s exemplars.

Rosh Hashanah Readings is Dov Peretz Elkin’s accompanying volume to that for Yom Kippur, previously published by Jewish Lights Publishing. There are some seventeen sections to the anthology, each comprising material on the major themes, prayers, services, ritual acts and more of Rosh Hashanah. Each section has a commencing paragraph by Art Green, which complements as well as introduces, what follows, and the material, as with its companion volume, is taken largely from modern writers, rabbis and laity, interspersed with a few texts from classical sources. This is a worthy accompanying text to Yom Kippur Readings and will doubtless sustain many intellectually and spiritually through the Ten Days of Penitence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580233521
  • Publisher: Jewish Lights Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/1/2008
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,541,019
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Rabbi Nathan Laufer teaches and lectures across North America on issues of leadership. He is founding director of PELIE: Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education, a new national initiative to improve Jewish supplemental education throughout the United States. He received his leadership educator certification from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and his Juris Doctor from the Fordham University School of Law. He is also an ordained rabbi.

Dr. Michael Hammer, president, Hammer and Company, is author of four books, including the international bestseller Reengineering the Corporation, the most important business book of the 1990s. His work has been featured in every major business publication. His latest book is The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman has been representing the people of Connecticut in the United States Senate for eighteen years.

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi Preface xv Acknowledgments xix Introduction 1 Book I: In the Beginning … : Relationships, Responsibility, and the Primacy of Values in Leadership 7 Defining Leadership 9 Leadership, Trust, and Responsibility 11 Three Circles of Responsibility 12 God, Adam, and Eve 14 God and the Human Condition 17 Know Where You Are Going: The Importance of Foreseeing the Consequences of Your Leadership 22 Heroes Who Fail to Lead: The Case of Noah 24 Self-Reflective Leadership: God and the Flood 27 Misguided Leaders: Babel's Builders 29 Leaders Are Made, Not Born: The Story of Abraham 32 The Advent of True Leadership: Becoming Your Brother’s Keeper 36 The Long-Term Rewards of Leadership 39 Discerning Leadership 42 The Sacrificial Element of Leadership 43 Becoming the Stranger’s Keeper 44 Leaders Make the Same Mistakes Twice 47 Losing Focus as a Leader 49 Taking Responsibility for the Next Generation 49 Managing Conflict Responsibilities 52 Leadership by Deceit: Jacob and Esau 54 The Sins of Leaders Visited Upon Their Successors: Jacob and His Family, Joseph and His Brothers 62 Leaders Need Mentors: Tamar and Judah 67 The Crucible of Leadership: Joseph in Egypt 69 The Abuse of Leadership: Joseph and His Egyptian Brethren 77 Conclusion 81 Book II: The Ten Guiding Principles of Leadership 83 Leading Change 87 Principle 1: Create Urgency! 89 Principle 2: Care Deeply and Act Courageously 92 Principle 3: Develop Double Vision 99 Principle 4: Recruit a Guiding Coalition 107 Principle 5: Establish Positioning to Secure Legitimacy and Authority to Lead. Build Credibility and Trust by Promising and Delivering 111 Principle 6: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! 121 Principle 7: Implement the Vision 125 Principle 8: Establish the Vision by Codifying the Values, Policies, and Laws Necessary for Actualizing the Vision 136 Principle 9: Institutionalize the Vision by Building Sacred Space and Carving Out Sacred Times 144 Principle 10: Protect the Vision by Dealing Decisively with Detractors 156 Book III: The Challenges of Leadership 165 Why Leaders Are Responsible for Their Followers’ Decline 167 Challenge 1: To Not Abandon the People Like "a Flock without a Shepherd" 172 Challenge 2: To Halt Losing Streaks ASAP 181 Challenge 3: To “Hold” the People and Not Falter or Otherwise Communicate Indecisiveness in Their Presence 188 Challenge 4: To Fulfill Our Promises and Explain Sudden Strategic Changes 197 Challenge 5: To Maintain the Sense of Urgency 204 Challenge 6: To Not Overmanage and Underlead 207 Challenge 7: To Avoid Unnecessary Hierarchies, Nepotism, and Even the Appearance of Impropriety 212 Challenge 8: To Compromise, Be Flexible, and Not Become Pharaoh 216 Book IV: The Legacy of Leadership 225 Evaluating Leadership Success 227 Ceding Power and Appointing Successors 234 Assuring Multigenerational Leadership 235 Establishing Self-Sustaining Systems of Governance 238 Recording Your Legacy 240 Conclusion 245 Notes 247 About the Author 261

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