Leadership and Followership in the Judaic Classroom: Challenges and Opportunities

By Chaim Botwinick

Today’s Jewish day school youth and Jewish educator are experiencing a myriad of social and academic challenges, unsurpassed in recent history. With the evolution of new and innovative technological platforms, learning and teaching opportunities are becoming more exciting and engaging “incubators” for promoting, understanding and exploiting the rich confluence of meaningful Judaic studies and character/leadership development. It also challenges the teacher to think more boldly and creatively about how concepts are transmitted, learned and internalized by students. Several years ago, I had the distinct honor and privilege to serve on a panel of senior Jewish educators and lay leaders who were challenged with the task of defining leadership and followership from a Jewish perspective. Following a lengthy and heated debate, one of my co-panelists stood up from his seat and forcefully posited that “leadership gets all the glory; but, a leader without followers is simply taking a walk… great leaders must be followers, and good followers at that; and that one cannot be an effective leader in the absence of followers.” At first blush, this pronouncement seemed painfully obvious. But, within short order, all of us on the panel began to understand and appreciate the symbiotic relationship between leadership and followership which he was trying to convey.The purpose of this paper is not to define or describe the differences or similarities between leadership and followership but to describe ways in which these two interrelated attributes or characteristics can be integrated into the Judaic classroom through several instructional models.

First and foremost, it is essential that we understand that followership, by and large, is a concept that is often undervalued, thought to be inconsequential or just common sense as it lingers in the shadow of leadership. To be sure, leadership studies have neglected or limited their focus on follower styles, competencies and attributes where theorists and researchers have focused on leadership almost to the exclusion of examining followership, even though most people are followers most of the time. In light of these aforementioned realities, what follows are several instructional models which endeavor to utilize leadership and followership modalities interchangeably that teachers can apply, adopt and adapt in their respective Judaic classrooms. The rich and robust learning environment of the Judaic classroom lends itself to a mosaic of instructional styles and methods in order for a Judaic lesson to flourish and come alive. It provides an organically rich teaching and learning setting necessary to stimulate and inspire a student’s deep understanding and appreciation of leadership and followership concepts against a backdrop of Judaic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors.

The use of biblical personalities

One of the most often used examples of leadership in Judaic sources is the manner in which Moshe (as leader) was able to navigate the impossible in order to help Benei Yisrael leave Egypt as slaves and sojourn to Israel. The trials and tribulations in the desert during that sojourn tested Moshe’s leadership and resolve. It provided Benei Yisrael with eyewitness accounts of Moshe’s leadership through faith, trust, vision, strategy and wisdom. It also provided them with a humble understanding regarding the power of followership. In this case, not only were Benei Yisrael following Moshe’s direction, but they were able to understand that Moshe, as leader, was following God’s instructions and command. Here we see a beautiful amalgamation of leadership and followership which coalesced around the Exodus narrative.

Another beautiful example from Humash was when Joshua, the preeminent “follower,” needed to assume the mantle of leadership from Moshe, just prior to Moshe’s death. Joshua, the follower, transforms into the leader of the Children of Israel. Several pedagogic opportunities for learning, reflection and discussion may be posited by presenting students with the following questions:

  • Was Joshua’s followership behavior and disposition a prerequisite for his effective leadership?
  • Is leadership a natural outgrowth of followership and vice versa?
  • When, and how, does followership transition or morph into leadership?
  • Can one be a leader without following (could Moshe lead in the absence of God’s command to lead)?
  • What other example do we see from Tanakh where followership is transformed into leadership and vice versa?

Continue Reading

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Send to Kindle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *