Israel has been blessed with a unique leader in the form of President Shimon Peres. Most people know President Peres for his relentless work for peace in the middle east for which he received the Nobel in 1994. Those who have read his biography know that President Peres has been working for the last 60 years on a single mission - the independence of the state of Israel. That mission takes a different form with every generation, yet he has never stopped working, and I suspect he also never stopped worrying.
President Peres was blessed by working with and for a unique leader in the form of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Ben-Gurion never stopped worrying, even at the best moments of the state he saw the disaster looming around the corner. A friend of Ben-Gurion metaphorically said that the founders of the state would stroll around discussing the establishment of the future state. Suddenly, Ben-Gurion would wander off for a few moments and shoot a rocket into the horizon and then rush back to join them. Three years later they would all come to a flattened mountain and recognize it was that rocket, shot three years back, that got them over the hurdle.
So, when I was asked by the President to come speak at his conference on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the independence of Israel, I was honored beyond words. When I learned that the President himself will moderate the session - on pathbreaking leadership - I got a bit apprehensive. How do you speak of pathbreaking leadership in front of the giant on whose shoulders you are standing?
If there is one hero in the Project Better Place saga it is President Shimon Peres. Until the moment I met the President I was merely solving a puzzle - more out of mental curiosity than out of a real belief I can get anything done. I put pieces together in my mind and wrote papers about the state of the puzzle. The President took that theoretical paper and put me to the test - he asked me the tough questions:
1. can you really do it?
2. Is there anything more important than getting the world off oil
3. Can you raise the money for it?
Then he asked two more questions - why do you think any other person will do this project if you don’t commit yourself? and the one question he has asked me ever since our first meeting “what can I do to help you?”. You see that is what leadership is all about - you inspire your people to do something bigger than themselves, and then you do everything in your power to help them achieve their goal.
For those who want to hear my presentation, it can be found on this web link - I am the last speaker (roughly 3/4 of the way to the end of the video - It is a bit slow to load, so click and be patient). I go after Itshak Tshuva who picked up the mission of building the red sea - dead sea channel after years of evangelism by President Peres. After him, speaks Leslie Wexner, Founder and CEO of Victoria Secret and many other companies, who is codifying leadership, and got hundreds of Israel’s future leaders educated at the Kennedy school in Harvard.
Leslie gave me the topic for my presentation an hour before we got on stage. He told me leadership is a collection of crucibles - events where your life is changed forever. You don’t know it at the time but in hindsight there is no doubt your life’s direction was defined by those moments. I thought of how blessed I have been during the last 40 months. It is as if my life bounced from one of these crucibles to another at faster and faster pace only to set course on a mission I could have never imagined for myself 3 years ago. I recognized that every one of these course corrections happened because I got close to the gravitational field of a giant, from Klaus Schwab of the WEF to my current chairman, Idan Ofer. So, in the short time I had in front of the conference in Jerusalem last week I shared some of the moments in the presence of those giants.
There is no doubt, the one gravitational field that we are all at awe from is the one of our host that day - President Peres - who may just be the last of the giants. I was blessed to pick leadership lessons from him for the last 18 months.