As a leader, what do you do when you lose on a big issue? By “big issue,” I mean one that is core to your beliefs and values. You’ve put the winning strategy in place, you’ve practiced, you’re confident but not arrogant, you’ve executed well—but you fail at your mission.
I’m not referencing Tim Tebow in asking this question (okay, maybe I was thinking about the Denver Broncos’ loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday). I was actually reflecting on the opening of this week’s Torah reading, Vaera (Exodus 6:2-13). The reading opens with God listening to Moses’ disappointment about his unsuccessful encounter with Pharaoh. Moses had followed God’s directives explicitly in confronting Pharaoh. Yet, Moses doesn’t get the result that he anticipated. Pharaoh doesn’t free the Jewish people from slavery and in fact, inflicts even more punishment on them. So Moses vents his disappointment on God.
Too often, leaders (and especially clergy) have a tendency to isolate themselves when conditions become difficult. Instead of finding a mentor, family member, trusted confidant or a coach, they erect a barrier around their feelings and carry the pain of disappointment alone. Prayer to God can definitely be helpful. But I believe that it’s not enough.
The Torah was not written as a management book, but it is often an incredibly wise source for personal reflection on leadership. This week’s Torah reading once again offers important guidance to leaders of all stripes. Disappointment and failure inevitably strike. But when they do, we see that we don’t have to endure them in loneliness. If you don’t have someone with whom you can share moments of triumph and joy, and times of disappointment and frustration, consider making it a priority to find someone. You’ll see how much sustenance you can draw that will keep your leadership vital for years to come.