When I was twenty, a friend and I spent a weekend organizing a shabbaton in a small synagogue somewhere in America. The rabbi of the congregation was a wonderful person who had been in his position for over fifty years. I remember looking around at the tiny vestibule of the poky little synagogue, and the sparse crowd of congregants, and wondering how a person with such obvious talent and charisma could have spent so long in the one place and have seemingly so little to show for all his efforts.

I glimpsed a partial solution to the mystery as I started setting up the tables for the meal; right behind me, every step of the way, came the venerable octogenarian, straightening chairs and reorganizing my cutlery settings. The man was congenitally unable to let go. He took personal charge of the children's service, demonstrated to the waiters the correct method of serving soup, led the Grace after Meals and interrupted every speaker with a running commentary of corrections and suggestions. He worked so hard and meant so well, yet the shabbaton was a shambles.

It's hard to hand over control; trusting others to do the job without youIt's hard to hand over control; trusting others to do the job without you. It is so tempting to insist on staying in the loop, finessing and finicking every single detail. If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right, and isn't the only way to guarantee perfection doing it yourself?

But you can't do it all. You have to be willing to lean on others and work together for a common goal. Many hands make light work and the mark of a successful leader is the ability to step back and allow others their turn in the limelight.

When I think of successful models of leadership I think of the Rebbe who empowered so many to live for his vision and trusted them to work out the details for themselves. The Rebbe didn't usually tell us what to do or how to do it; he just inspired us with the self-confidence to try, and then allowed us to map out our own path to success.


Yet, as I write this, I think back to the thousands of hours the Rebbe devoted to serving the needs and whims of individuals. If he had mastered the art of delegation why did he personally have to stand for hours every Sunday handing out dollar bills for people to place in charity? Why personally sign the thousands of letters that went through his office? Surely the proper function of a leader is to decide policy and set the general tone and direction, and then to allow his faceless bureaucrats to grease the wheels of routine governance.

Perhaps an answer can be sourced from this week's Torah reading. Joseph was "the ruler of the land" (Genesis 42:6), and also the most successful Jew to ever stride the world's financial markets. It was his drive and sense of vision that saved the world from starvation.

A true leader never forgets that to serve the simple needs of the common people is the highest callingYet the very same verse continues: "He was the one who provided grain to all the people of the land." I can just imagine the scene: Joseph standing at the front door of his granary, greeting every one of the thousands of starving peasants with a smile and cheery word and personally handing over the precious grain that meant life in times of famine.

Sure, he would have had sufficient flunkeys and lackeys to take care of the nitty-gritties of corporate governance and routine existence, yet a true leader never forgets that to serve the simple needs of the common people is the highest calling to which one can aspire.

It is so difficult, yet so crucial, to maintain balance; thinking globally, acting locally. Trusting others to lead in their own right, yet never removing oneself entirely from the mundane wants and needs of the entire flock. There is no shame in asking others for their help, or learning how to delegate, but never, ever insulate yourself in an ivory tower of privilege.

True leadership doesn't mean doing it all yourself, yet being a true leader means doing it all for others.