Take the Wheel

As a driver, I am probably not “Michelin” rated.  I drive too fast at times and tailgate a bit. Passengers might experience a bit of dyspepsia in the back seat. But I like having control of the car. My son is a far better driver than I. He doesn’t speed through intersections or weave through traffic. Recognizing his skill, when we are together in a car, I invest him with the authority of the wheel. His style of driving is imbued with a sort of ethics for the road. He doesn't speed, gives wide latitude to bicyclists and stops at yellow lights. But such is the transfer of power of the wheel.

Torah drives us toward realizing the delicacy of transferring the wheel. In Parshat Pinchas, God instructs Moses to invest some of his power in Joshua ben Nun, who is described to be an inspired man or a man of spirit. The transfer is orderly and public. The need for new leadership was obvious and Moses acceded to the exigencies of the situation.

I remember back a few decades when I was considered a “young leader”, which only meant that I was under 40 and was willing to donate to a non-profit organization or synagogue. Existing leaders welcomed the arrival of new leaders but not so much their ideas. There were many tense conversations that I still recall. Those exchanges left me feeling like the more mature leadership was nowhere near ready to invest any “young leader” with real power, no less the wheel of the car. 

Today I sense a more profound shift in our society that urges us to jump past current organizational power structures. Perhaps it is inspired by the example of brash businessmen like Steve Jobs or college-skipping executives like Bill Gates.  In their wake, I believe that millenials have less patience for bureaucracy and more interest in spontaneity. I sense a greater eagerness to attempt change with confidence that the outcomes, even if not “successful”, are better than the status quo. This can range from making last minute vacation plans to organizing public events. The speed of communication through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram allow for instant interaction. Apps that allow group opinion polling, crowd fundraising, and last minute travel instill confidence that officious methods are passé. And with Uber and Lyft, you have instant transportation and you don’t even have to do the driving. While conventional methods may be “out,” ethical and environmental considerations are “in.” I witness many younger adults who drive their lives within a context of moral authority.

There will still be pain as businesses and non-profits driven by mature leaders hit speed bumps or even crash into barriers. While the need for young leadership will always be upheld as a panacea, the willingness to honor their spirit and invest them with some power will cause distress for the old guard. Such is the nature of institutions. And such is the legacy of change in a rapidly advancing world. My suggestion to all interested in transitions is this: read the Torah. Moses is still teaching us best practices for handing over the wheel.

R’ Evan Krame