Leadership Matters: How can I stay on a board with so many Obama voters?

(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,

The election is over, and it is no secret that I am a Republican on a Jewish board filled with — you should excuse me — liberals. The people on this board are good-hearted and really committed to the work we do on behalf of Israel, but I have to tell you that I just don’t get how they could sell out on Israel this way. I am so frustrated and confused that I am thinking of leaving the board. Our last meeting was right before the election, and I didn’t even want to be in the room. As far as I see it, there is no one to talk to who understands me and just how big an issue this is. There are plenty of other Jewish organizations out there that could use my time and money. How should I tell the president that, like Romney, I am finished with politics?

Signed,
I
really stand with Israel

Dear Stand,

Don’t send in the resignation letter yet. Please. Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “Other people are not me. Other people make the world interesting.” Your brief letter contained the word “I” 10 times.

One of the great problems in Jewish leadership and in all leadership today is that it has become harder to hear the voice of the other. Today you can listen to talk radio, watch news and read newspapers that support your particular bias, making us believe that the whole world thinks the way we do when it’s only one small slice of a complex universe. When you are in a leadership role, the degree to which you can speak should be secondary to the degree to which you can listen. Take someone out to coffee who does not vote like you and ask them to explain why without judgment.

Your board is lucky to have you because Jewish boards today are not diverse enough politically, professionally or financially. If others make you feel uncomfortable because of your politics, then your boardroom is not a safe place, and your president needs to be made aware of this and change the conversation. If, however, you can express yourself safely but just don’t want be with people who aren’t like you, there will be no other board to join. Healthy boards invite, respect and make room for diversity — and so should you. If this is a cause you believe in, then staying will ensure your organization is well represented on both sides of the aisle.

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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