The Great “Value” of Leadership: Arrogance, Humility, and Joseph’s Untimely Death
Photo by Tali Gortenburg

The Great “Value” of Leadership: Arrogance, Humility, and Joseph’s Untimely Death

Customarily, when veteran writers leave the Rampage, as I am doing next year, they write a reflection about their time on the publication. Editors, in particular, reflect not only on their experience with journalism but also on their experience with leadership.


So, being an editor and long-standing writer, I’ve decided to write my last article about leadership. 


I’ll start with this: I’ve learned a lot from working on the Rampage. These skills include the typical things like how to conduct an interview and the ability to know what makes a good article. But because I was able to be an editor, I also learned how to be a “leader.”


I joined Publications in ninth grade. This means that when I was a freshman, I was expected to correct the grammar of upperclassmen. To think that I was trusted with oversight on veteran writers, much less seniors who had been writing articles for years, was insane to me. But it worked out, and I learned how to give good advice. I learned that I was a part of a team. And not only that, I was an essential part of a team.


Then I became an editor, and suddenly, the responsibility to make everyone feel welcome and important, to help develop their writing abilities, to manage and supervise them, make sure they are meeting deadlines, and control the whole atmosphere of the class as a whole fell on me.


I don’t know if I succeeded in all these things, but if there was one takeaway from trying to do all this, it’s to look at everybody with empathy and importance. In my opinion, the best way to keep people committed to the class is to make them feel indispensable and cared about.

Being a leader promotes feelings of self-greatness. However, this feeling corrupts your moral compass. Photo by Tali Gortenburg.

You guys probably don’t want to hear me talk about my inner thoughts, so instead, I’m gonna switch focus for the rest of this article to the Jewish perspective on leadership, something I think is worth hearing. 


Let’s start with the Pirkei Avot. The Mishnah, 1:10, says we should “hate lordship” (or “hate acting the superior” according to a second translation). This raises multiple questions. The first one I think we should address is “why?”


Rashi gives us a bit of an answer: being in an authoritative position literally shortens your life. He cites as proof the fact that Joseph died before the rest of his brothers, despite the fact that he was the second youngest. 


Rambam expands on this in Rabbi Moshe Lieber’s Pirkei Avos Treasury. He explains that in politics (or in places where there are positions of authority), there’s always jealousy. People constantly seek to undermine your power and acquire it for themselves. Consequently, you feel forced to do things to maintain the power you aren’t proud of. Eventually, power corrupts you completely. 


Despite this, it’s clear that being a leader isn’t all bad. Later in Pirkei Avot 2:5 it says, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.”


These two Mishnayot seem to directly contradict each other. And not only that, they’re both from the same tractate, Pirkei Avot. One says that you should hate positions of authority, and the other says that you should strive for those positions. There’s gotta be some sort of distinction here.


Let’s suggest this: Being a leader is sometimes necessary, but even when you accept the position out of necessity, it still shortens your life.


Before you utterly denounce this idea, let’s explore it a little.


Rashi’s comment certainly seems to be true. Joseph had his life shortened due to his position of authority even though he was extremely righteous. If Joseph could not escape this comment of Rashi, what hope do we have?


Let’s further postulate that the reason your life is shortened is because it’s almost impossible not to become arrogant when you have power. And in fact, I believe I have proof this is the reason.


Look back at Pirkei Avot 2:5, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” The inclusion of the first clause implies that people have a natural desire to be a leader, so they must be told that “Only where there is no one else to take the position, only then are you permitted to ‘strive to be a leader.’” Seemingly, leadership is connected to a desire to have power or arrogance. This must be the reason why it shortens your life: Even though you accepted the position out of “necessity,” you still derive satisfaction from your status. In other words, being a leader necessarily promotes arrogance.

Arrogance is generally characterized by feeling superior to other people. This character trait is hard to conceal and leads to the weakening of relationships. Photo by Tali Gortenburg.

Now that we have a potential reconciliation of the mishnayot, let’s ask the question that everyone’s thinking, but no one wants to verbalize: “What’s so bad about feeling superior?”


Perhaps the famed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks can help us out. In a article, relevantly titled “The Greatness of Humility,” he writes, “Ezra Taft Benson said that ‘pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right.’” Being prideful makes you lose sense of what should truly be valued. Instead of focusing on what’s correct, moral, and beneficial to the people around you, too much pride shifts your focus to your ego while allowing everything else to fall into disregard. 


It is said that one who is arrogant “tramples on the feet of the Divine Presence.” This is because when someone is arrogant, it’s as if they’re denying the existence of G-d. This person is saying that they caused their own success, that G-d has nothing to do with it.


Additionally, humility even makes you a better leader. As Rabbi Sacks writes, “In 2014 the Harvard Business Review published the results of a survey that showed that ‘The best leaders are humble leaders.’ They learn from criticism. They are confident enough to empower others and praise their contributions. They take personal risks for the sake of the greater good. They inspire loyalty and strong team spirit.”


I think the primary message we should take away from this is the gravity of arrogance. I think we’ve learned that it carries much more significance than private thoughts you keep to yourself. It inevitably manifests itself externally, no matter how great of an actor you are. This not only drags down your reputation, it also drags down the people around you.


Leadership is a necessity for a society, but at the same time, it’s not necessarily something to aspire to. Sometimes, it’s ok not to be the center of attention, and it’s ok to boost the confidence of others, it’s even ok to understand that everyone is different and has their own strengths and weaknesses and to understand that no one is truly better than anyone else.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Tali Gortenburg
Tali Gortenburg, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Tali Gortenburg is a junior and this is her third year in publications. She is excited to fulfill her role of Co-Editor-in-Chief. This year, she hopes to be a role model for new writers and create a positive environment for staff.