Ten principles for leadership in a post-Oct. 7 world

Since Oct. 7, Jewish professionals have been called upon to demonstrate a different type of leadership as we continue to grapple with our own personal responses to the events unfolding in Israel. The ripple effects of this moment will likely not only change our sense of self but also impact the institutions we are committed to serving.

Literature focused on “crisis leadership” points to the unique elements associated with managing in times of change and disruption. In such settings, we are called upon to be resourceful and adaptive while simultaneously being mindful of our own coping skills in times of tension and change.

Extrapolating both from the literature and from conversations with Jewish leaders who are currently experiencing some of these challenges, I offer a set of 10 leadership principles:

Manage Thyself 

If we are not focused and present, we cannot be there for others. Only by dealing with and acknowledging our own sense of loss and vulnerability can we then effectively lead and be engaged with others. This is where we confront our sense of self, as we tackle the realities and challenges before us. Many of us are feeling the pain and trauma of this moment; in being responsive to our colleagues and others, we must first confront our own concerns and fears before addressing theirs.

Check In On Colleagues 

It becomes imperative that we maintain our connections with coworkers, other professionals and our lay leaders. Our support and encouragement is particularly essential in sustaining these relationships, and we require their good counsel and guidance as well.

Reach Out to Donors, Members and Potential Supporters 

In times of crisis and trauma, there is often a reflexive tendency to withdraw. Even as we acknowledge how much uncertainty and discomfort reside within us, this becomes the moment where we make the essential effort to encounter the Other — those with whom we may have limited or minimal connection, or no relationship at all — to demonstrate the fullness of our roles as communal leaders in building bridges and modeling the best of our leadership talents. Creating these connections will be critical to the work ahead. 

Engaging with those whose views on this conflict may differ from our own by taking the time to listen to their concerns will be an essential element of our leadership. Respecting their beliefs and perspectives will hopefully give us the credibility to reach back to them on other issues of mutual concern.

Learn From Past Experience 

While the circumstances differ in many ways, funders and communal professionals entered the aftermath on Oct. 7 on the tail end of a different crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. Articles like this one from the Harvard Business Review featuring strategies for leading during a pandemic can remind you what you’ve already learned about grappling with unforeseen complex challenges (or even teach you something new).

Provide Information 

Many of our supporters and members crave accurate information. Helping others navigate responsible news consumption is a central task in providing context to events as they unfold. Be prepared to help answer questions, offer counsel, provide support and direct individuals to where they can secure assistance or information. 

Indeed, there is so much right now that remains unclear. Leadership in this context involves being positive and focused even as we acknowledge our limitations. 

Reframe and Advance Our Skill Sets

This is an environment where we have an opportunity to employ and enhance our team-building tools — our communications skills, adaptive capacity and empathy — in the course of embracing and serving different constituencies.  

Acknowledge Challenges — Opportunities

In these uncertain times, we may face our own internal operational challenges. They can include financial pressures as communal resources are directed elsewhere, the need to postpone key previously scheduled activities or possible delays in critical institutional decision-making. Still, we should also take note of the unexpected opportunities that afford us as leaders the ability to creatively engage our partners and boards in different ways.

Build Consensus, Frame a Vision and Learn As You Go

In times of crisis, the essence of leadership is the capacity to create a shared direction of activity and engagement. These are the moments for which we were trained to exercise our skills, demonstrate our passion and insights and, above all, affirm our commitment to the Jewish people. In such settings our constituents are seeking our inspiration as well as our guidance. 

As we move through this period, we will need to continually reflect on how well we as leaders are performing and how our communal systems are responding to this crisis. The learning curve here could be as informative as it is essential.

Lead from Behind… 

Use your influence and input to support those on the front lines. Providing counsel and context becomes imperative.

… But Also Move to the Front

Much of what we do and say involves managing from behind, but there will be critical moments when we must “step out” to provide an essential voice. In this setting, our very presence becomes an expression of our leadership; and in actively modeling a way forward for others, we fully embrace the leadership responsibilities with which we are charged.

Steven Windmueller is a professor emeritus of Jewish communal studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.