Hillel the Elder, or ‘Rabbi’ Hillel, a Jewish leader who died in 10 CE, is remembered outside the Jewish tradition by his saying ‘If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?’.
There are some variations of the saying depending of translation liberties, but the three pillars ‘myself’, ‘only about myself?’ and ‘now!’ have remained intact. It is often simplified as ‘If not us, who. If not now, when?’, and, as a commentator put it, ‘it involves discussion from Hillel to George W. Romney to Robert F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama to Saturday Night Live’. In other words…
The triad has resisted time magnificently and it constitutes perhaps the simplest model of leadership thinking.
It starts with reflection about oneself. The first time you read it, it even sounds a bit selfish and self-centric. But it isn’t. It’s looking inside oneself. The second part is very direct and bold. It does not ask who you are but ‘what’, as in what kind of beast. The third part, is a part in a hurry: so, if not now, when on earth?
Marshall Ganz, father of modern social activism and leadership for collective action (Kennedy School of Government) uses a matching trio when it comes to the use of storytelling as part of that leadership development. He talks about ‘the story of self’ (personal introspection, testimonial, sharing with others); ‘the story of us’ (the collective, the group, the activists) and ‘the story of now’ (the sense of urgency, the now). These are Hillel’s translations.
This terribly simple trio has helped me enormously in the framing of my leadership work. It also reminds me of the need for us in managerial and leadership positions of some sort, to tap into historical sources of wisdom, as opposed to, say, the twitter feed!
Of course all this can be trivialized, packaged and Macdonaldised, and yes, since ‘all that is solid can melt in the air’, (Rabbi Marx?) all that is wisdom can become a car sticker.
But for me, the ‘If not us, who; If not now, when?’ is a constant call to action, small or big. A shot of motivation difficult to resist. ‘Self, us and now’, could be the best leadership slogan if you need one. I have adopted it.
Taken from my soon to be released book, Camino – Leadership Notes On The Road.
For more thoughts on leadership – look out for my new book
Camino – Leadership Notes on the Road
Preview Chapter coming soon!
Good leaders are good path makers. For me, a leader is the cartographer in chief who, whilst walking with others, also becomes an architect and a builder. If this is about journeys, and maps, and building, then there is almost no end to it.
On my imaginary journey inside my head, I took notes and articulated ideas. Most became my Daily Thoughts, a blog I have been running for years. This book is a collection of those notes. Don’t look for Harvard here, there are only harbours and other places that have generously adopted the content between them.
In this Camino (road in Spanish) of mine, I have also learnt to spot the real things, the fundamentals, the rocks. This is a collection of warnings, strong views and discoveries that I do not intend to be transferable. After all, the journey is not transferable, nobody can walk the Camino for you. Liberated by the idea that I don’t need to impart universal wisdom to end in a sterile case study and that I can share these notes and ideas, like one shares a meal without having to explain the chemistry of the ingredients, they are here in this book, still full of dust from my journey. The one I have only just begun.
Dr Leandro Herrero is the CEO and Chief Organization Architect of The Chalfont Project, an international firm of organizational architects. He is the pioneer of Viral ChangeTM, a people Mobilizing Platform, a methodology that delivers large scale behavioural and cultural change in organizations, which creates lasting capacity for changeability.
Dr Herrero is also an Executive Fellow at the Centre for the Future of Organization, Drucker School of Management. An international speaker, Dr Herrero is available for virtual speaking engagements and can be reached at: The Chalfont Project or email: [email protected].