Chaim Y. Botwinick

Leading by Example: Challenges and Opportunity

“A Leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”

-John C. Maxwell

The topic of “leadership” and its impact on society, communities and institutions is one of the most talked about, written about and debated subjects since time immemorial.

“Leadership” by definition, is the ability of an individual or a group of individuals to influence and guide followers or other members of the organization or group. The question of whether one can lead in the absence of a follower is a conversation that will be briefly touch upon later in this post.

Today, one of the most central challenges facing leaders, especially those who occupy public held positions, such as Principals and Heads of School, is their unswerving commitment, ability, responsibility and obligation to serve their schools and communities as role models and in a manner which commands respect and derech eretz. As such, the manner in which leaders act, opine and respond to crises, public opinion, or everyday occurrences in a school are of paramount importance.  To be sure, leaders by definition must be exemplars of good judgement and must serve as beacons of inspiration, trust and confidence.

As leaders who occupy highly visible Jewish communal positions, especially where there are multiple stakeholders, constituents and audiences, it is incumbent upon us to be extremely careful and vigilant in how we behave; and, to act in a manner which is commensurate with our chosen profession. Our ability, capacity and conscious understanding regarding the impact and influence we have on people and our staff is emblematic to the privileged positions we occupy. Whether our followers emulate our behaviors, accept our positions on specific issues or our policies, we are all influencers with tremendous potential to positively impact institutions and peoples lives. Having said that, where there is influence, there is awesome responsibility.

Finally, it is important to note that when individuals aspire to leadership positions – whether they be Principalships, Head of School posts or senior Jewish communal  positions – it is incumbent upon them to perform their duties with the highest level of integrity, trust and professionalism. It is equally incumbent upon the community they serve to hold leaders responsible and accountable for their actions  – a topic we will also briefly touch upon at the conclusion of this post.

What Does “Leading by Example” Look Like – A personal view from above

Leading by example from a Head of School or Principal’s  perspective manifests itself in the way in which we interact with our staff, faculty, students and parent body. I use these examples in order to help illustrate the wide variety of ways in which senior school leaders can actually “lead by example” in real time. In fact, “leading by example” should be the mantra or modus operandi for all senior Jewish educational personnel who are entrusted with the academic, social and emotional development and wellbeing of our children and effectiveness of our teachers and staff.

As a Principal and as a member of a school’s senior management team, one should always be very cognizant and conscious of the fact that people in leadership posts are judged not only by what I do as a leader, but when and how I do it. In order to effectively inspire and lead a school staff and faculty, one must always be totally aware that actions and decisions (in and out of the classroom or school) have a profound influence on the ways others behave. While we need to consciously focus on our behaviors, it is not for ego purposes, but rather for the school’s benefit.

An important dimension of “leading by example” may include the following reflective questions often contemplated when inspiring, directing or managing staff, teachers and administrators.

  • Do my decisions and decision-making process inspire my teachers and staff?
  • Do I ask my team to take on assignments I would not do myself?
  • Am I motivating my staff effectively?
  • Do I act decidedly and with clarity of purpose when working with my team?
  • Have I communicated my vision through my decisions to act?
  • Do my actions effectively covey my character?
  • Do my actions effectively mirror or reflect my persona or character?.

These introspective questions are by no means comprehensive. They are presented to help you build a set of behaviors that will help you to become an effective leader in virtually every work environment. Key to your success as leader will be your clarity of purpose, a well defined shared vision and a value proposition which is clear to understand, interpret and embrace.

As a former Head of School, and current Day School Principal and professional Jewish communal executive, I have had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to lead people and their organizations through good times and unfortunately through periods of crisis. But throughput each of these experiences it was essential that I modeled behavior and actions which embraced the opportunity as opposed to only responding to it. This “purposeful” leadership style has enabled me to help inspire my staff and at the same time move our  institution forward.

The following are ten important “dos” and “don’ts” that will assist you in your ongoing effort to “lead by example”:

  1. Don’t’ criticize or complain publicly about staff;
  2. Always praise and celebrate improvements, even minor ones;
  3. Always provide honest and sincere praise and appreciation;
  4. Be sensitive to your staff’s pride and always let them save face;
  5. Be respectful of other opinions and ideas. Always try to see things from their point of view;
  6. Be a good listener and always encourage other staff to talk;
  7. If you are wrong or incorrect in your assumptions, be honest and humble enough to admit it;
  8. Set clear goals and expectations!
  9. Set a high bar for your staff and let them know that you believe in their ability to succeed;
  10. Give honest and sincerer praise and appreciation; and never patronize your staff;

In the final analysis, great leaders, whether they be educational, spiritual, political or communal always remind themselves regularly that actions speak louder than words. This holds true for inaction. Although “silence may be golden” we should be mindful of the fact that in Talmudic literature, silence on an issue, may at times be interpreted to suggest consent. As such, there is always a very fine line between calling something out publicly for the betterment of society vs. Lashon Hara – derogatory speech about a person, which emotionally or financially damages them or lowers them in the estimation of others. This differs from defamation in that lashon hara can consist of truthful speech as well as lies.

We must always walk that very fine line in order to ensure high levels of integrity, honesty, and truth. Compromising on any of these three usually result in disastrous outcomes. harmful outcomes. We must always strive to walk the walk. That’s what leadership is all about!


Although I prefer to conclude my posts and articles on a more positive note, I am compelled to share a concern with my readership which is timely and which I therefore feel warrants serious attention and communal introspection.

Unfortunately, our global Jewish community recently experienced and witnessed a series of very harmful, embarrassing and disastrous leadership failures which are having and will continue to have a profoundly detrimental and negative impact on our communities and on the personal lives of individuals and their families for generations to come.

I will not get into the rotting weeds regarding this recent case or crisis, nor will I opine on this tragedy of monumental proportion. There are already a proliferation of well-articulated articles, statements and social media posts on this sad topic by leaders far more informed and knowledgeable. At best, I urge all of our communities to please be extremely vigilant and guarded in order to do everything in our power to prevent such travesties and leadership failures in the future. We must continuously hold our leaders accountable as we undertake initiatives and programs to ensure that these tragedies and daunting abuses of power never ever happen again. Nobody should ever get a free pass….irrespective of leadership position, influence or popularity.

It is my hope and prayer that GD bless all of us with the knowledge, insight and wisdom to lead with integrity, honesty, trust and respect….. and with the ability to “lead by example.”

Uncritical followership and habits of silent obedience give rise to corruptions of power, or sometimes simply to avoid catastrophes

-Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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