Commentary: Leading Through Change

Mobilizing an organization to adapt its behaviors in order to thrive in new business environments is critical. ...  Adaptive change is distressing for the people going through it.  They need to take on  new roles, new  relationships, new values, new behaviors, and new approaches to work. ... Rather than fulfilling the expectation that they will provide answers, leaders have to ask tough questions. Rather than protecting people from outside threats, leaders should allow them to feel the pinch of reality in order to stimulate them to adapt. Instead of orienting people to their current roles, leaders must disorient them so that new relationships can develop. Instead of quelling conflict, leaders have to draw the issues out. Instead of maintaining norms, leaders have to  challenge “the way we do  business”  and help others distinguish immutable values from historical  practices that must go.

Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie, “The Work of Leadership”


Gary Pretsfelder, Principal, Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan:

In leading a group through adaptive change, a leader is faced with competing values: loyalty to those who have helped build the organization versus commitment to the successful future of the institution. If relationships are at the core of organizations, and if one of the roles of a leader is to collaborate with with colleagues who support a positive and healthy work environment, then potentially undermining those very relationships with adaptive change is both risky to the organization and risky to the leader. At a moment when support for change is so important, generating the disequilibrium required for adaptive change risks damaging those very connections that a leader has successfully built up over time. It is in these moments of truth that leaders are challenged to navigate the delicate balance between trusting relationships and the organization’s future. The successful leader has to sensitively communicate the larger message of adaptive needs upon which the future of the institution will be built. Even in this difficult moment, relationships remain at the core.


Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross, Assistant Principal, Middle School, Yavneh Academy, Paramus, New Jersey:

The shift from “stage on the stage” to “guide on the side” has occurred in the boardroom no less than in the classroom. The idea of a “leader as visionary” or “leader as oracle,” that the person on the top of the hierarchy possesses a clear view of where the organization is headed and is always ready with the best answer for every question, is simply not reflective of the reality on the ground, and certainly not in situations of organizational change. A leader has to be willing to allow for a certain degree of failure among his or her team, however painful that may be for everyone involved.

Real change rarely has a clear roadmap. The leadership skills necessary to guide an organization through change are the ability to project and instill confidence that the change is necessary (and not back down at the first setback), the flexibility to search for different options when the initial plans do not pan out as anticipated, and the fortitude to withstand some discomfiting moments and to manage the inevitable interpersonal conflicts as roles and expectations undergo sometimes rapid changes. A leader who understands the organization’s core principles, and can consistently communicate why and how the change remains faithful to those ideals, is a leader who ultimately will be successful in guiding that organization through an inevitably turbulent process.


Rabbi David Stein, Judaic Studies Teacher and Director of Gemara Education, Shalhevet High School, Los Angeles:

As Jewish educators, we bear a foundational responsibility towards the people, traditions and heritage that came before us. At the same time, though, we’re tasked with the mission of translating and transmitting that history in order to ensure its future. Walking this tightrope certainly isn’t easy, and the potential pitfalls are daunting. If we fail to recognize and adapt to the new social, cultural, technological and communal norms of our world, our values and traditions may be left, God forbid, to fall upon deaf—or distracted—ears. Adapt too much, though, and we risk abandoning the very ideals that we’ve been entrusted to preserve.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma, and each educator, community and denomination must find their own balance between change and tradition. Yet Heifetz and Laurie have captured here a formula for identifying those “immutable values” that we must hold on to while reorienting ourselves to the challenges of each generation: a relentless, fearless and honest examination of our practices, approaches, pedagogies, institutional structures, curricula, values and biases.


Liora Chessin, English Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher, and Director of Communications and Public Relations, N. E. Miles Jewish Day School, Birmingham, Alabama:

Being a leader in a Jewish day school means being a leader of a community based on Jewish values that are relevant and applicable to the challenges our students’ face in their lives. By studying our shared history and learning from those who came before us, we have the opportunity to help our students understand their identity and empower them to contribute to society as proud Jewish citizens. Our school communities must engage in challenging conversations about preserving our constant values in a dynamic world. Mobilizing the children and adults in our buildings to act on our shared values in the classroom, in the community and beyond is what makes teaching and learning at our schools unique and gives us the strength to navigate change.

Return to the issue home page:
HaYidion Leadership Dispositions Winter 2018
Leadership Dispositions
Winter 2018