As part of their leadership studies, the fellows of the third cohort of the Mandel Program for Local Leadership in Beer Sheva, together with fellows and graduates of other Mandel programs, met with Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amram Mitzna in May 2016 for a forthright discussion.
Amram Mitzna is, for us, a symbol of worthy leadership. We are not necessarily referring to his opinions, but to his courage in public life, his willingness to take on challenges, and especially his willingness to lead, rather than be led by the desire to be liked, popular, and accepted.
The meeting, which took place at the Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev, was moderated by Gal Horev and Tamar Shimi, two of the program's fellows. With unsparing forthrightness, they asked Mitzna to describe not only his strengths but weaknesses as a leader. They confronted him with his accomplishments and failures, referred to success and criticism, and described his history in terms of the leadership that he displayed during different periods of his life: as an army commander, as the mayor of a large city (Haifa), as the head of a small local authority (Yeruham), and, for a period of time, as head of the Labor Party.
When Mitzna was asked to name traits that characterized his leadership, he said: "Trustworthiness, honesty, and integrity." He told an amusing anecdote about a live radio broadcast that took place during his term as mayor of Haifa, during which he told a listener that the municipality would not be solving a certain problem on his street anytime soon. He described how the listener and people close to him saw this honest and straightforward utterance as unacceptable for a public figure. "There are so many ways to say no, to finesse things," they said. "Did you have to tell him 'no' to his face?"
When the question arose as to how such a non-political man as Mitzna had succeeded in the political arena, Mitzna answered that he had not succeeded at all; the Labor Party lost the election under his leadership, and his personality as a national leader did not meet the test of results at the polls.
During the meeting, Mitzna was asked other pointed questions about his move from the large city of Haifa to the small development town of Yeruham, about the fact that he had chosen to resign from the army, seemingly leaving the field to officers less ethical than he, and about his return to politics as part of the Kadima political party.
One unusual thing about Mitzna's answers was his constant acknowledgment that he might be wrong. To him, a mistake in the test of results is far less damaging than a misstep in a test of character. "A result can be bad," he said, "certainly when we study decisions from a historical perspective. But a leader who does not possess courage, integrity, and a willingness not to be liked is not worthy of his position."As we know, these are tests in which all too many politicians fail.