And the question is: What do we do about it? One approach says it’s our destiny. The other approach, which I believe in, says it’s our mission.
Every person’s takeoff begins in front of the mirror.
We have amazing examples in our country of excellence and of breaking new grounds—in science, in medicine, in agriculture, and in the Air Force as well. We have opposite examples too, and what we’re lacking there is leadership. We need a challenging leadership that can lead, a leadership that will make us tap into our potential almost to its fullest.
And let me tell you, leadership doesn’t stop at a certain level. There is no “small leadership.” There is natural leadership and there is the kind of leadership that is built gradually. But your leadership depends on you alone, and it begins with deep introspection, in front of the mirror. From there, the takeoff is like jumping straight into a limitless sky.
But leadership mostly touches people. It serves as a lever to lead people to places and achievements they wouldn’t have reached if it weren’t for that leader. The leader acts as part of a group, not on his own, with people he has to see, not see through. People he has to understand, learn from, and mainly enlist. And when they’re yours, you have to serve as a source of inspiration to them, be an educator, punish them when necessary—and love them.
Leadership is also about sticking to your truth. A leader should serve as a compass even during the worst storms. That’s where he is tested. Yes, a leader can convince and influence people when necessary, but he must stick to his truth like a compass, not like a flame in the wind.
We are living in an era which has introduced the term “alternative truth.” I don’t believe in that. There is truth and there is untruth. There is good and there is bad.
I believe the real ethical discourse is being pushed aside right now, making room for the immediate, attractive discourse. But our values—comradeship, friendship, personal example—must not be pushed aside. We can’t let the only test be the criminal test. We need to demand more of ourselves. Our test is the moral test. And when we fail to protect our values, we quickly reach a slippery slope.
Leadership, therefore, requires a personal example. A leader has more obligations than rights, and a strong leader is one who possesses the ability to fearlessly admit a mistake. Only weak people hide behind pretensions and are afraid to admit they were wrong. As the Air Force commander, I reached the investigations room too after a flight. Like everyone else, I came there to point to my errors and mistakes and to learn from them. That isn’t weakness. It’s the essence of leadership.
And the last principle is modesty and humility. A leader isn’t God. He’s a human being. Without the people you lead, you won’t get anywhere, so you must place yourself between the people and act modestly and humbly with and among them.
Our people’s journey throughout the generations is a unique journey. It’s the product of far-sighted leadership. To our young generation, and to our military academy cadets here and in general, I say: You are our young generation, and we’ll soar as high as you aim.
Excerpts from former Israel Air Force Commander Major-General Amir Eshel’s speech at the 2018 Haifa Leadership Conference.