The Maccabee in You

As a leader, you know that leadership offers great opportunities to guide and inspire others, to set the agenda and see it to fruition. However, it also can place us in compromised situations, where we feel as if we have lost control of the situation around us and need to engage in damage control. There are even times when we step into a leadership role that did not previously exist in order to address a need, a problem or a concern, oftentimes a pressing one at that. Such was the case of Matthias, the elderly priest who assumed an expanded leadership role at a time of great national duress in order to save his nation and the Torah that they treasured.

In this article, I will aim to distill leadership lessons from within the broader historical context, lessons that we can apply within our own lines of work and our lives in general.

1. Understand the objective - For most of our nation's history, we have lived in exile (either in the literal sense or in our homeland under foreign subjugation). While in exile, we enjoyed varying levels of freedoms and autonomy, but were generally content to subvert ourselves to our host nation so long as we were given the freedom to live religiously as Jews.

Matthias and his sons had no interest in attacking the Seleucid forces. They had fled to Modiin, a small hamlet on the outskirts of Jerusalem, because they knew that it would give them a better opportunity to live a Torah-observant lifestyle than in the now-Hellenized capital. Knowing what was of primary importance to them is what drove their decision to relocate as well as all of their subsequent ones.

As leaders, we also need to know what's most imperative and be willing to take the proper steps in order to achieve it. Clarity of purpose, as well the ability to visualize and articulate what success looks like, are two primary characteristics of successful leaders. While most decisions may not be of the "life or death" variety, we still need to establish guidelines that inform the moral, financial, retention-related, and other decisions that we must make.

2. Know what's at stake - When Matthias killed a Hellenized Jew as the latter was preparing to sacrifice a swine to Zeus, he did not do so in a vacuum. He recognized the collective threat posed by the Seleucid forces and the Hellenists. Both were eager to redefine Jewish attitudes and Jewish practice, and placed Torah observance at the center of their destructive agenda. Matthias understood that at such times of spiritual threat, definitive action must be taken, despite the odds.

The takeaway for leaders is plain. Evaluate your circumstance. Identify potential threats and challenges and act as proactively as possible to thwart them. On the positive side, leaders need to recognize their core purpose and remain as focused as possible on advancing that cause. Too often, we get distracted by competing objectives or peripheral interests and fail to invest sufficient energy on what's really important. Staying above the fray and remaining attentive to your primary goals can make all the difference between achievement and failure.

3. Be a man - The great sage Hillel the Elder taught us that "in a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." (Avoth 2:6) At the time of the revolt against Antiochus, there was no formal Jewish leader in place. The position of High Priest had been filled by an unworthy imposter, a non-priest who had bribed his way to the post. Matthias recognized the void and stepped into it in order to offer hope and direction to a nation that was being bombarded by pressures to conform to foreign behaviors and values.

Leadership is often about recognizing and filling a void. Perhaps this will take place within your own organization, such as expanding your original suite of services to meet an increased demand. Maybe it will require that you identify others who can assume responsibility to address the issue. Either way, the leader is someone who is not content to leave matters alone when they require attention.

4. Identify the right person for the job - Judah Maccabee, Matthias's handpicked successor, was not the eldest son. Yet, when his father, on his deathbed, selected Judah to assume the reigns of leadership, he did so because he recognized that his third son's blend of piety, tactical skill and general capacity made him the right man for the job. This may or may not have been the most popular decision, but it was the choice that the Jewish nation needed in order to defeat the Seleucids.

Oftentimes, leaders struggle with choosing the right person to assume positions of influence within their organizations. They may have a few legitimate candidates, each with meaningful skill sets and experiences. Some may also be popular or well connected. They may not, however, necessarily represent the most important qualities for the position. A leader needs to identify what it is that the position and circumstance demand and make the best possible selection, even if it means bypassing the popular choice and going beyond the organization to find the right fit.

5. Do what you can... and then pray - Judah was a great leader with many admirable physical qualities. Yet, he is recorded numerous times as leading his troops in prayer for success against the enemy. He understood that there was only so much that he could do; success, if it were to occur, would ultimately have to be divinely orchestrated. He also took no credit for his successes. God was the root cause of his victories.

Successful leaders do all that they can to achieve their goals. They invest all of the necessary effort and talent to meet and exceed their objectives. But they also need to be able to step back and bring their Maker into the picture. They pray for their success, knowing full well that it will not occur without His blessing.

The struggle of Matthias, Judah and the Hasmoneans offer us many insights into how to live inspired lives and lead change. Let us hope that the lessons that we have gleaned will help us in our capacities to bring added focus, fulfillment and sense of purpose to our tasks, so that we can lead optimally, and bring our teams to new levels of achievement.

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) is a former school administrator who now serves as an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog at Get his free leadership e-book by clicking here.