Leadership in the Wilderness represents years of studying and teaching leadership and years of studying and teaching the Hebrew Bible.
This book brings those worlds together through essays on a much neglected book of the Bible: the book of Numbers. Musicals have taught us Genesis. Movies have taught us Exodus, but only failure teaches us to read Numbers. The transition time between leaving oppression and arriving at the Promised Land took us to a desert that tested us and our leadership. That transition taught us a great deal about what it takes to prepare and confront uncertainty and how important vision is when you are not sure where you are or where you are going. It takes great leadership to rebuild trust after authority breaks down.
I have always been intrigued by power and powerlessness and how power within institutions works. Spending time in sacred pages helped me understand why truths about human adventures so long ago still hold truths about human nature today and how the wilderness is an apt and poignant metaphor for leadership.
I loved writing Happier Endings. It was an experiment for me, and it took a lot out of me. Jon Karp from Simon and Schuster challenged me to write a book to help people die better. There must be a better way. Of course there must be, but what was it?
As always, when I write a book, I start by reading. I order a mountain of books on a subject, plow through them and try to organize my thoughts in relation to what others think. The first iteration of the book was pretty academic. I was still distant from the subject. Jon read it and said, "Stories, Erica. Stories." He was right. And so I had to let go of the words of others - the researchers and the textbooks - and instead enter the world of pain and suffering of friends and strangers. And what a remarkable universe it was.
Those strangers became friends, sisters and brothers who taught me how to how to die better and through forgiveness and regret, meaningful last words and last gifts, showed me how to live better.
Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has got everyone talking about leaning in, the title of her new book. The idea is to encourage women to give voice to their concerns, to assert themselves to achieve success and to stop getting in their own way by limiting or diminishing their capabilities. Women, she contends, need to sit at the table and not behind everyone else in the boardroom. They need to lean in, be unafraid of expressing ambition and enjoying success.
In contrast, Tami Simon, CEO of multimedia company Sounds True and a believer in discovering the inner life at work, argued on a recent NPR program (Krista Tippett’s On Being) that she needs to lean back. As the leader of an organization, she is all too aware of the strength of her voice and how in both articulation and body language, leaning back makes more space for others to lean in. It helps those who may traditionally take a quieter role in public settings find a place for themselves and their opinions.
What’s a girl to do?
The leaning in/leaning back dilemma is not really about gender. At heart, it’s about personality and passion. Leaders need to know when to lean in and when to lean back. Some of us in the presence of others do not know how to find a comfortable space to express a personal view so we just hold it in. Others feel too comfortable using all the available air space in a room, making it hard for others who are more hesitant. There is no one formula, but there are some aids from our own mystical tradition that can help us assess where we are and might want to be in any given setting.
Leadership in the
Leaning In/Leaning Back
“Think of yourself as Ayin and forget yourself totally.”