Last night I was at the Ranch and had the pleasure of attending Rabbi Michael Zedek’s speech about how to be a leader. It was a topic I wasn’t sure I was qualified to take part in. I do not consider myself a leader in everyday life. Yet after the talk I came to the conclusion that in a way, we are all leaders. Whether we know it or not, we influence people in our lives without intending to.
One profound message in the Rabbi’s talk was that stories will be told about us based on our actions. We have to look to ourselves to influence the way in which people tell these stories. True leaders walk the walk, even if it leads to unpopularity. They stand their ground, not just for their rights, but for the good of mankind.
The Rabbi told a story about an employee of the White House that had worked under five presidents in the first half of the last century. When asked which president the employee enjoyed working under the most, he replied, “Eisenhower.” This was surprising considering that Eisenhower only had a 12% approval rating by the end of his term, while the popular President Franklin Roosevelt seemed like the more obvious choice. But when asked why he chose President Eisenhower, the man said, “Because he’s the only one that knew my name.”
That story stuck with me. It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, and it says so much about leadership. The smallest and kindest actions can have the biggest impact.
In July of 2004, Rabbi Michael R. Zedek began service as the Senior Rabbi of Emanuel Congregation of Chicago. He also served as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and for 26 years was spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri, where he holds the title of Rabbi Emeritus. At the time of his installation in 1976, he was the youngest rabbi in the United States to head a “giant” congregation. Rabbi Zedek was the recipient of the Danforth Graduate Fellowship for outstanding teaching, a Fulbright-Hays Grant for advanced study in the United Kingdom, and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Hamilton College, Clinton, New York. He speaks internationally on spirituality and folklore and is a regular presenter at Rancho La Puerta.