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Parshat Shelach

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Captain Chesley Sullenberger, of “miracle on the Hudson” fame, recently wrote a book on leadership entitled, Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage From America’s Leaders. Instead of focusing on his own heroic performance, landing Flight 1549, he decided to focus on a number of contemporary leaders who have influenced events in some way. The first person he wrote about is Admiral Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Allen is best known for assuming command of the government’s rescue and relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

What fascinated me about Admiral Allen was his description of an advantage the Coast Guard has over other organizations when it comes to leading inter-agency operations. “One of the things we are really good at—and this is an ‘Allenism’—is being bureaucratically multilingual…. We can talk military to military, we can talk incident command system to local fire chief, we partner across the federal agencies, we can work with state and local governments. We are really good at partnering and collaboration” (p.15).

Every organization has its own priorities, ways of doing things and professional jargon. Fire Departments think in terms of fire houses and ladder and engine companies. Military organizations think in terms of Forward Operating Bases and armored personnel carriers. Fire departments worry about the number of alarms, incident safety and back burning. Military organizations worry about infiltration, reconnaissance and encirclement. It is therefore little wonder that when these disparate groups find it necessary to work in a joint effort, their differences can impede progress. The Coast Guard, by virtue of its versatility and broad mission portfolio, is able to effectively communicate with their partners allowing for greater and more efficient integration.

Sullenberger explained that Admiral Allen is a firm believer in such integration. “When individuals, departments, or organizations act in isolation without regard to their impact on others, it is known as a silo mentality. I noted that Allen seemed to be a leader who specialized in breaking down silos and organizing a united front when faced with chaos” (p.15).

A leader must not only know how to communicate, but he must know how to do so with different groups of people in ways that are appropriate and effective for them. When it comes to leadership communication—one size does not fit all. Yehoshua, who together with Calev were the only spies to remain loyal to G-d and report the truth about the land of Israel, ultimately became the communicator par excellence. In fact, in Parshat Pinchas, when Hashem instructs Moshe to appoint him as his successor, Yehoshua’s primary qualification for the job is his ability to deal with people on their own level and in accordance with their unique personalities. Throughout his career, Yehoshua always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it.

After the spies delivered their terrible report about the land of Israel, Bnei Yisrael panicked. Despite Calev’s attempt to thwart the rebellion, they continued to cry and demand a return to Egypt. At this point the Torah relates (14:6) that Yehoshua and Calev made one last try to limit the damage caused by their co-spies. Since the Torah mentions Yehoshua first, we can safely assume that he was the initiator of this last effort. Before they spoke, Yehoshua and Calev tore their clothes as a sign of mourning. The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that this was a tactically significant move. Had Yeshoshu and Calev not been part of the mission, tearing their clothes would not have meant that much. But since they themselves had seen the land of Israel and then tore their clothes as a sign of mourning, it impacted Bnei Yisrael in some small way – it made them stop and consider the significance of their actions. If two of the spies disagreed so vehemently with the others, maybe the other spies’ report should be reevaluated.

After they got Bnei Yisrael’s attention, Yehoshua and Calev proceeded with their argument. “If Hashem wants us, then He will bring us into this land and give us this land that is flowing with milk and honey” (14:8). The Or Hachaim Hakadosh explains that Yehoshua and Calev carefully worded their argument. They did not begin their argument with a definitive statement. Bnei Yisrael would never have let them continue. By beginning with the word “if,” they caught Bnei Yisrael’s attention and made them curious as to where they were going. That is why they were able to continue talking to them.

Unfortunately, at this point, nothing Yehoshua and Calev said was able to reverse the tragic course Bnei Yisrael had chosen. However, Yehoshua’s careful and well-planned approach reflected a strength that would be developed over the next 38 years and would serve him well when he assumed the position of leader. Not only was he able to relate to each person on his or her own level, he was able to choose the right words, tone and logical arguments to win the support of his diverse group of followers. During Yehoshua’s tenure of leadership all the shevatim, despite their differences, combined in a united effort to conquer and settle the land of Israel. They all understood that while they perhaps traveled somewhat different paths—each path led to the Mishkan and service of Hashem.

Leaders must develop the skill to communicate effectively with all their followers. While some messages can be delivered in a single manner with universal appeal, others must be tailored for specific audiences. Like the Coast Guard, leaders should work on their bureaucratic and organizational multilingualism.

Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Comments can be emailed to him at mdrabbi@aol.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division and is an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College.


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