I vividly remember the time I was offered my first managerial position. It was exciting and empowering. And I recall one of the first things I did after I accepted the position: I went on an Amazon shopping spree. If I remember correctly, among the spoils were The Effective Executive from Peter Drucker and Good to Great by James Collins. There were probably others as well, but those titles stick out in my memory.

Now, how many tips and tricks from said literature do I currently implement, or even remember?

Well… I’d rather not answer that question. But I’ll say this: It was a nice try.

After all, it makes sense to be conscientious and serious about a new task. Surely one ought to do their due diligence to ensure they’re fully prepared (as best they can) with the skills to be a true Effective Executive, right?

Usually, yes.

But sometimes, not so much.

Sometimes, it’s time to put the self-help books aside and jump into the action.

Lazy Princes?

I take my cue from the way the Torah speaks of a certain donor class in our parshah. We read of how the Jewish people (for perhaps the first and only time) eagerly donated to the Tabernacle-building campaign, giving gold, silver, and other precious materials so enthusiastically that Moses had to tell them to stop donating (certainly the first and last time!). After listing the various gifts, the Torah tells us about the last group to come forth: “And the Princes brought the shoham stones and filling stones for the ephod and for the choshen; and the spice and the oil for lighting and for the anointing oil, and for the incense.”1

Why did the Princes, of all people, donate last? What were they waiting for?

Rashi fills in some interesting background information, telling us that the Princes said to themselves, “Let the community donate what they will donate, and whatever they are missing we will complete.” A noble sentiment, to be sure, but alas, the fundraising campaign went so well, there was barely anything left to donate by the time their turn came around.

Rashi concludes, “Since they were lazy about it, a letter is missing from their name, and the Hebrew word for ‘Princes’ is written without the usual yud.

This is all quite troubling. Read the script again: The Princes weren’t sitting on their couches taking a nap; they were being great leaders, nobly pledging to wait in the wings while everyone did their thing and then come in and fill in the gaps. If you’ve ever run a campaign before, you well know the value of the “clean up guy”—that committed member who’s willing to step in at the end and finish the work no matter what it entails. So why are we calling them “lazy” and hacking a letter from their title?

What did they do wrong?

Get the Job Done; Worry about the Resume Later

You know what they did wrong?

They were too busy being “good leaders.” Sometimes, the best leader is not the one who’s concerned with being a good leader, but the one who actually leads.

The Jewish people had just committed what is arguably our people’s gravest sin: the Golden Calf debacle. They had infuriated their Creator, lost many members, and were jittery about their chances of ever regaining grace. The Tabernacle was an important piece to this puzzle, they had been informed that its construction and subsequent service would atone for their heinous sin.

You can imagine just how anxious they were to get the job over and done with. Sure enough, as soon as Moses launched the campaign, the Jewish people shot out like cannonballs to bring it to fruition, feverishly gathering the materials and lining up the construction crew.

As leaders, the Princes should have sensed their anxiety. The suave leadership skills they displayed by pledging to be the clean-up guys may be great advice for your next leadership book, but when there’s an entire nation anxiously biting their nails to regain G‑d’s grace, what’s the first thing you do when word gets out that hope is on the way? You jump into the trenches and get working. Leave the calculated leadership skills for next time and get the job done. Right now.

Their intentions were noble, but it wasn’t the call of that particular hour.

Indeed, the next time around, when the Tabernacle was dedicated months later, the Princes learned their lesson: they jumped in and donated first.2

Forget About Being a Good Leader, Be Good at Leadership

In the wonderful information age we live in today, there’s so much out there on any given topic. And with such insight so readily available, it seems absurd (not to mention foolish) to tackle anything without detailed research and strategic planning.

You’re told not to lose the forest for trees, to make sure you have a good plan—a “birds’ eye view” of what you’re trying to accomplish. Companies invest millions of dollars on brand visions and corporate strategies, and your next door neighbor is devouring every tip and trick to get past her personal Tipping Point. Everyone’s telling you to sign up for this “amazing masterclass,” and your cousin is well on his way to being the most effective sourdough maker this side of the Mississippi. And where are you? “You should be brushing up on your skills right now!” they say.

It’s true: don’t lose the forest for the trees and make sure you’re doing things meaningfully and effectively. Go for that masterclass, and I can lend you my copy of The Effective Executive.

But sometimes the call of the hour is to “just do it.” This plethora of information has created a reverse problem of paralyzing us into inaction, always whispering into our ears that we’re not planning things well enough, that we need to master more skills and mock up more vision boards before proceeding.

Resist that urge and just jump in. If there’s someone anxiously waiting for you, leave your desire to be the most effective executive behind and just help them. It’s not always about you. It’s actually never about you. It’s about the job, the task at hand.

Let’s not fall into the seductive trap of trying to be a good leader. Rather, focus on good leadership. And if that requires you to buck conventional rules about “effective leadership,” well, you know what to do.3