Commanding respect vs. demanding respect

“For not as a human sees [does the Lord see]; humans see only what is visible, but the Lord sees into the heart.” — I Samuel 16:7

It is not hard to mistake the outside for the inside. We do it all the time. Shine and sparkle often distract us from inner shallowness.

This distinction is particularly important in the arena of leadership, where a sleek head of hair sometimes covers for the fact that there’s not much underneath. The Hebrew Bible communicates this very message in the book of Samuel. The people agitated for a king, but Samuel warned them that the king would tax them and make their lives difficult. No matter. They insisted. God gave them a weak but good-looking king: Saul. He had the advantage of height, creating the image of a towering personality. In actual fact, Saul was not a person of great courage. He was riddled with insecurities and melancholy.

Saul’s successor came in the guise of an unlikely fellow. He was the “runt” of his family’s litter. When Samuel traveled to David’s father’s house, God said to him: “Pay not attention to his appearance or stature.” God knew that even a prophet could fall for external appearances. That is when God interjected the quote above. At the end of the day, human beings can only see that which is visible. That which is concealed, however, can be far more potent.

When David went out to his brothers at war to deliver food, he heard Goliath, a man of superhuman proportions, would challenge the Israelite army. Only little David had the courage of conviction to fight him. Saul dressed David in his war gear, but it was far too big, so David marched into an encounter with an enemy many times his size in civilian clothing, armed only with a few rocks.

David commanded respect because he was an unlikely candidate for leadership who earned the high regard of others. No one expected greatness. He delivered beyond any expectations. Saul, on the other hand, betrayed God’s expectations even though he looked the part. When Saul rose to a position of power, he lorded it over others only to lose any shred of respect that he otherwise might have merited

The restaurateur Danny Meyer wrote “Setting the Table,” a book about hospitality, service and leadership. Kitchens can be brutal places to work, and I’m only talking about mine. Restaurant kitchens are often embattled places, torn by hierarchies and egos. Meyer challenges that culture: “When certain people gain more authority and power, they tend to demand respect from those who work for them. But what got them their promotion in the first place was their natural ability to command respect. Demanding respect creates tension that can make it very tough to lead, and very uncomfortable to follow.”

Meyer claims that the higher you climb the ladder of power, the less technical skills matter and the more emotional skills are a key to success. In the words of a great book title, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Respect is a currency in human interactions that you earn. You can demand it, but the more you demand it, the further it runs from you. Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) asks: “Who deserves honor?” and answers, “The one who honors others.”

In this time of political vitriol, commanding respect rather than demanding it is particularly challenging. Honor is not skin deep; it surfaces from the goodness of untrumpeted deeds.

Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish nonprofits. She is the author of “In the Narrow Places” (OU Press/Maggid); “Inspired Jewish Leadership” (Jewish Lights), a National Jewish Book Award finalist; “Spiritual Boredom” (Jewish Lights); and “Confronting Scandal” (Jewish Lights).

NBC’s ‘Kings’ Revamps David, Goliath and Saul

Michael Green was walking down a street in Jerusalem in late 2006 when the concept of the new television series “Kings” came into focus.

“The idea had been roiling my brain for a while,” Green said, so he sat down to write the pilot for “Kings,” while working as writer and co-executive producer for “Heroes.”

NBC’s “Kings” starts its regular Sunday evening run at 8 p.m. on March 22, after a special two-hour premiere this Sunday, March 15. The show takes the biblical drama of young David, Goliath, King Saul and the prophet Samuel and transports it to a contemporary city that looks a lot like a gleaming New York after a thorough scrubbing.

Don’t look for a 21st century swords-and-sandals, however. The political intrigues and corporate power plays have a distinctly Washingtonian ring, and part of the fun is to look for parallels to the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration, the Cold War, Vietnam, Iraq, Middle East conflicts and even the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Green, who attended a yeshiva in New York, is a bit coy about drawing direct biblical-contemporary comparisons.

“It’s not for me to say what the parallels are,” he commented. “That’s up to each viewer.”

However, any Jewish or Christian viewer who stayed awake in Sunday school should have no trouble identifying the TV protagonists with their biblical counterparts.

We meet King Silas Benjamin (King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, first king of Israel), David Shepherd (David, the shepherd), the king’s son Jack (Jonathan), his daughter Michelle (Michal), and the Rev. Ephraim Samuels (the Prophet Samuel).

Actors in the two key roles are Ian McShane (“Heroes”) as the king and Australian actor Chris Egan as David.

In the premiere episode, we find the king, in an expensive power suit ruling over the prosperous Kingdom of Gilboa and ensconced with his queen in a mansion in the capital of Shiloh.

He is also at war with neighboring Gath, and when his son is kidnapped during a military skirmish, it is David, a fellow soldier, who frees Jack and earns the gratitude of the king.

To free the hostage, David has to do battle with Goliath, who appears in a rather unexpected form. At home, David becomes an instant media favorite.

Peace is made but soon broken, followed by new negotiations with prickly Gath officers, who look suspiciously like Russian generals, with square faces and jackets full of medals. On a softer touch, David and Michelle (the beautiful Allison Miller) begin to fall in love.

As creator and executive producer of “Kings,” Green makes it even tougher to define the precise genre of the series by introducing touches of sci-fi and fantasy. For instance, the emblem of Gilboa is the orange monarch butterfly, and when a successor to the king is anointed, a swarm of butterflies form a crown around the chosen one’s head.

By contrast, the flag of Gath sports a star, through Green denies that it is modeled on the five-pointed Soviet star.

“King’s” crew has shot 14 episodes —a season’s worth, and the premiere contains two of them—in and around New York, at studios in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint and in a Nassau County mansion.

With a large cast, opulent palace scenes and shooting in New York, this is an expensive production.

Green begged off giving an exact budget figure, but he put the cost of an average prime-time TV episode at between $2 million and $4.5 million, with “Kings” definitely on the high end.

Green, 36, is a native New Yorker, with close ties to Israel. His mother was born in Tel Aviv and came to the United States after finishing her army service, met Green’s father, and “has visited ever since,” Green said, adding, “most of my extended family lives in Israel.

He is optimistic that “Kings” will eventually be seen on Israeli and British television, which usually happens after a new series’ second or third season in the United States.

Green reinforced his boyhood yeshiva studies with a more academic perspective when he took a double major in human biology and religious studies at Stanford University.

After college, his interest turned to story writing, rather than religion or biology.

He noted, “I once created the character of a doctor in one of my shows, but never became one myself – to the disappointment of my parents.”