Leadership Matters: What to do about loose lips?

(Leadership Matters is a new JTA column in which consultant Erica Brown will answer questions posed by lay and professional leaders of Jewish organizations and institutions.)

Dear Erica,

I have been working on a board for a year and a half now, and there is someone on my board who is a big gossip. He’s always taking people aside in whispers and saying things about members of our community; I often feel that he’s talking about me although I don’t know him well. My concern is that we have some very difficult decisions to make in the next few months about some firings in our synagogue, and I’m worried that he can’t keep his mouth shut. What do you think?

Sensitive in Sarasota

Uh-oh. Bad news. The mouth is that gift that keeps giving. May I suggest that you take this indelicate situation to your president? This is a stealth mission. Quickly and quietly this board member needs to know that a board member is a trustee — a trusted holder of information that cannot go beyond the board room. Failure to comply with this most basic requirement of board service results in a lovely good-bye party for gossips. It may not feel comfortable to put out a fire but think of all the fires that will start if you don’t say or do anything. Courage is the ability to say and do what needs to be said and done even if doesn’t feel good. That’s a core value of integrity, and the world of leadership needs more of it. May the force be with you — or, in the language of the biblical Joshua, "Be strong and of good courage."

Dr. Erica Brown is the scholar-in-residence at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her new book is “Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe” (OU/Koren). Are you a Jewish organizational or synagogue leader wrestling with a tough issue? Send your question to LeadershipMatters@jta.org.

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