I feel like these days, I hear almost every day that, “Our leaders aren’t what they used to be!” or that, “There’s a crisis of leadership these days,” or that, “Our leaders are failing us.”
Just over and over. Like a tape that was recorded and is being replayed in the mouths of the discontented masses.
And the truth is you can’t disagree completely. Where are all the great Hassidim of the last generation? Or the Rebbeim.
There are no real great people anymore, and that reality is reflected in secular society, where presidents and leaders have turned into a watered-down version of true role models.
But that always seems like half the story, half the truth. I can’t help feel like there’s something missing from these discussions, these justified complaints.
Because isn’t there another half to the equation? Doesn’t a leader need followers? Don’t followers guide the leaders, at the end of the day?
So, indeed, what’s with the followers?
If we’re going to be just as honest with ourselves about the decay of leadership, we should be just as honest about our own decay. The steady decline of the follower.
Just as our leaders have fallen, so too have we.
I always find the story about how the Rebbe became Rebbe to be incredibly powerful. For a year, he resisted all calls to be Rebbe, despite essentially taking his father-in-law’s place.
It was only after the followers insisted, demanded, that he become Rebbe, only after a hassid stood up in the middle of 770 and declared, “We would like to hear a maamar from our Rebbe,” that he finally accepted his role as a leader.
Now we live in a world where the followers passively accept the leaders they have all while complaining about them in the background. A world where the quiet true leaders are not paid as much heed to simply because they don’t have a PR team or a column in the Huffington Post or they aren’t listed in Time magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Rabbis” list.
If the Rebbe were in the same position today, people would be too focused on complaining about Shmuley Boteach to realize the leader in their midst.
In other words, the followers have fallen even further than their leaders. And their leadership is only a reflection of their own fallen state.
And I can’t help but wonder, can’t help but think about what would happen if we as followers spent less time focused on the failure in front of our eyes, and instead focused on the success happening behind the scenes. The true leaders quietly working in the background, the ones who are truly making everything happen. The quiet ones.
And maybe, what if we went even further, and looked even deeper, into ourselves. Into our own actions. Our own hearts. Our own thoughts.
Maybe then our leaders would reflect our inner state. Or maybe, if we dig deep enough, we’ll realize that that these are the best leaders we can have, that they’re better than we realized, that they’re sacrificing more than we’re aware of. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll realize how good we had it in the first place. And maybe, with all that, we’ll raise ourselves and our leaders, together, into a higher level than we realized possible.
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