Social Unrest Can Inspire a New Kind of Israeli Leader

The Israel of 2011 needs a sober, honest leadership, but one seasoned with a pinch of the bandit's daring and chicanery.

Israel is stuck. It is moving, if at all, in futile circles. Its diplomatic, social and security horizons are obstructed. That is the feeling reverberating from the popular protest - what has been will be again. There is no progress, no hope for change of direction. The responsibility for this falls mainly on the leadership, which isn't daring enough to break through the murky present into the future.

A possible explanation for this situation in the army - which is still producing a future civilian leadership reserve - can be found in the words of the commander of the military colleges, Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen. Discussing the IDF's senior officers' class in an interview with the magazine Israel Defense and the IDF veterans' journal Tzevet, he complained: "We have too many outstanding cadets and too few bandits."

Outstanding means living up fully to the establishment's expectations. The bandits - outlaws (meaning unconventional or rebellious ) - are a thorn in its flesh. The establishment prefers the conformists and conservatives to the creative talents heralding change.

Hacohen's distinction is based on his personal experience as an extraordinary officer and his acquaintance with hundreds of cadets and candidates for military college studies. It is supported by two studies conducted by IDF organizational psychologists, published last winter by the General Staff Behavioral Sciences Department.

One study examined lieutenant colonels, whose promotion was conditional on undergoing evaluation. Those who scored high grades shared the characteristics of staunch loyalty to the organization and conservatism. They "are relatively short of creativity and vision, flexible thinking, awareness of the human factor, initiating and leading change processes, openness to learn from others, the ability to dispute basic assumptions and readiness to take risks."

The study concludes that "the officers assimilate a systemic block that becomes part of them over time," and that "this is usually not a personal tendency but a characteristic reflecting organizational culture."

The placement and promotion mechanisms, which are greatly influenced by the direct commander's opinion, generate personal loyalty to the officer in charge. This prevents personal attributes from coming into play and sterilizes the urge for innovation.

An Israel Air Force study found that squadron commanders were seen as more effective when they conformed to the squadron culture and did not try "to make changes in a short time and shape the unit" - in contrast to the expectations of them when they were appointed to their position. This is a "culture in which it is difficult to make revolutions and does not make life easy for 'maverick' leaders with an unusual voice. The question is, what conditions will bring forth the 'maverick' leader, who will renounce the organizational status quo?"

The anti-revolution is cloning its followers. Those who kick against the conventions discover that the conventions kick back, painfully and accurately. In the process of natural selection, only especially sophisticated rebels survive: Those who are indifferent to others and enjoy the organization leader's sponsorship. Until payback time, which is bound to come.

David Ben-Gurion was such a patron of bandits. He controled mavericks in the army (Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon ) and in defense-foreign relations (Shimon Peres) and protected them from their rivals. He understood that after every formation period, like 1948, comes a stabilizing period, which is in danger of sinking into degeneration (in the '50s ) and cries out for reformation. Afterward (following the Suez-Sinai War ), formation was again required, so the IDF that was built to win in the Six-Day War was the right blend of seriousness (Yitzhak Rabin ) and craftiness (Ezer Weizman).

Dayan and Sharon's greatest flaw was their ego. They expected loyalty to the army - that is, to themselves - from their subordinates, while they were a law unto themselves, from excavations to farms. As politicians, they stood out mainly for their flaws, which dragged Israel into disasters. The various forms of depravity this caused were reflected in the wars of 1973 and 1982. Their student, Ehud Barak - whom the public was enticed to see as the dawn of the new day he himself had promised - was wasted on petty account-settling and became a routine functionary.

The Israel of 2011 needs a sober, honest leadership, but one seasoned with a pinch of the bandit's daring and chicanery. The protest is providing such a leadership a chance to appear, even if it comes from outside rather than within its ranks.