Defining Leadership Moment
Eliot Goldstein is a member of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program. He works for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Eliot can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jewish tradition and the Ten Commandments stress honoring our mothers and fathers. This is clearly a “biggie” in Jewish life – but not one of the most easily defined mitzvot.
My father is a very active lay leader in a large metropolitan Jewish community. He is a Board member at the synagogue, Day School, Federation, and is involved in Israel advocacy, interfaith activity and citizen action. His active involvement and community-oriented leadership have always served as a model for me to aspire to.
My father and I tend to agree on most things related to Jewish communal life. We share the same deep rooted commitment to the Jewish people and the notion of community organizations that are structured to represent the community and meet its needs.
And yet, as much as I respect my father and admire his commitment of time, energy and passion to important communal causes, I have been confronted lately with the issue of wanting to challenge his perspective on certain Jewish community issues of the day.
Is this truly a defining leadership moment – to disagree with my father about the Jewish communal agenda and American Jewry’s biggest challenges? Perhaps in the past, I have hesitated, uncomfortable to challenge his depth of knowledge and experiential wisdom. How do I confront him? Can I do so adamantly, even forcefully?
How do I validate my convictions in his eyes even when I do not always have hard data to make my case? What if my arguments are grounded only in my own intuition and anecdotal evidence? Will he think that my position as a Jewish communal professional has put me in the category of those who do not value lay input from volunteer leaders like himself?
I held these fears for a long time and was hesitant to act. I struggled with how to honor my father while challenging him so strongly. Lately, I have come to understand that asserting leadership is not something one can only do “in the community” or “at the office” but must also be something that also must be done within one’s home and within one’s family, even if it means disagreeing with my father.
Therefore, I made the decision to begin to assert my worldview more strongly, to counter his arguments more directly and convey my perspective more actively – even when it put me in a place that is radically different from his. I have begun to chip away at some of the deeply held beliefs that my father holds to so very firmly. I made the choice to be more consistent as a leader. If I was willing to be an active leader professionally, a so-called “risk-taker, an entrepreneurial thinker”, and a person who values people regardless of their political opinions – then this approach would need to apply to my relationship with my own father as well.
And so I confronted. I began to challenge. I pushed some buttons. I questioned some of his premises and I suggested he show a greater appreciation for alternative thinking. We argued. We disagreed. But we also listened to one another and gained perspective and depth of understanding. I shifted my outlook and I am sure my arguments made him think differently as well.
Now that I have crossed that leadership bridge within my family, I wonder. As a new father myself, when my son grows older, will I be able to be as open as my father was to me when my son begins to challenge me? When that day comes, I will once again have to redefine my understanding of the role of leadership in new ways.