top of page
  • Writer's picturejenrolnick

Leadership Theory and Practice Part 1: Observation, Dialogue and Applications

Observation Paper March 7 2021
Download PDF • 138KB

Ancient and modern societies alike have been fascinated by the intricacy of dynamic leadership. Although there is no formula for effective leadership, many theories have developed to explain the leadership process at its best.

Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal (Bor, 2021a). Assigned leadership is based on one’s position within an organization, while emergent leadership is how one is perceived by others in the organization regardless of title. In contrast to management which is meant to “produce order and consistency” in the workplace, leadership exists to provide motivation to the followers (Bor, 2021a).

In general, the study of leadership moved from study of the traits possessed by an individual, to a group approach beginning in the 1940s. In the 1960s, the focus of study became leadership through behavior, while the 1980s marked a return to leadership traits. After 1990, many leadership studies began to emerge including authentic, spiritual, and adaptive leadership as well as exploration of the role of followership (Bor, 2021a).

Thus far, the course has explored several styles of leadership including: the trait approach, skills approach, behavior approach and situational leadership. Other considerations such as emotional intelligence contribute to leadership development in several of these approaches. This paper will give a broad overview, with a focus on how these approaches can be incorporated into my observations with Cantor May and my work as a leader.

I. Leadership Approaches and Emotional Intellegence

1. Trait Approach / “Great Man Theory”

The trait approach is the oldest of those studied and is supported by a century of research. It

is focused on identifying traits that make a successful leader, including intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity and sociability. The five-factor model of the trait approach focuses on extraversion, conscientiousness, openness, low neuroticism and agreeableness as defining leadership traits. This model is intuitively appealing, but it does not allow for leadership development or flexibility when presented with different leadership challenges (Bor, 2021a).

2. Skills Approach

The skills approach, like the trait approach, is a leader-centric model that evaluates

ability to use one’s competencies to accomplish goals and objectives through skills that can be learned and developed. There are different models of this approach including Katz 3 Skills model which emphasizes technical, human and conceptual skill and the Mumford Comprehensive Skills model. The Mumford model focuses on capabilities that make effective leadership possible including individual attributes, competencies and outcomes. Researchers identified nine key problem-solving skills for leadership and other factors that contribute to leadership success including career experience and environmental influence (Bor, 2021b).

3. Behavior Approach

The behavioral approach evaluates leadership in two general domains: task

behaviors that help group members achieve their objectives and relationship behaviors that help group members feel comfortable with themselves, each other and the situation.

The Ohio State study evaluated leaders in terms of initiating structure and consideration. The University of Michigan study found two types of independent leadership orientations; employee orientation which emphasizes human relations, and production orientation which emphasizes the technical aspects of a job. The Blake and Mouton managerial grid further expands the behavior approach evaluating two factors in leadership; concern for organizational production, and concern for people (Northouse, 2013, p. 141).

4. Situational Leadership

The Situational leadership model focuses on leadership in specific situations. An effective

leader is one who adapts his style to match the developmental level of his followers. The Leadership Styles chart details recommended leadership styles for specific situations (Northouse, 2013, p. 169). This model has several strengths including practicality, prescriptive value and emphasis on leader flexibility. However, there is limited research demonstrating the strength of this approach.

5. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence plays a role in all of the presented leadership models. Emotional

intelligence is the ability to perceive and apply emotions to life’s tasks, and to manage emotions within oneself and relationships. The underlying premise of emotional intelligence is that people who are more sensitive to their emotions and their impact on others will be more effective leaders (Northouse, 2013, pp. 76-77).

II. Dialogue and Observation with Cantor May

I chose to interview and observe my colleague, Cantor Anna May for this assignment.

Cantor May is currently the cantor for the Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry, NY and was previously a chaplain at the New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital ("Greenburgh Hebrew Center | Conservative Synagogue," 2021). I was interested to learn more about Cantor May’s leadership style and specifically how her unique career experience contributes to her success as a leader in her current role. I had the opportunity to observe a bar mitzvah officiated by Cantor May and to engage in an open dialogue with her about leadership.

1. Observation: bar mitzvah of Jason

Jason’s bar mitzvah took place earlier this year in the midst of the COVID pandemic. The

clergy and close family members attended the ceremony in person while others attended from home via video camera installed in the sanctuary. I noticed several things about the ceremony that posed leadership challenges, and how Cantor May addressed them with poise and grace.

The Greenburgh Hebrew Center values the safety of its members and made adaptations to the physical space to prevent the spread of illness. Everyone in the ceremony wore masks and both rabbi and cantor had plexiglass shields in front of their podiums. All ritual items including the Torah were handled with gloves and clergy stood several feet apart from each other and the other participants.

Cantor May’s role in the ceremony included chanting the service, leading the congregation in communal song, reading from the Torah scroll, and guiding the bar-mitzvah, Jason through his role. Cantor May displayed intelligence and self-confidence, key elements in the trait theory, in chanting the service. While some are naturally born with these skills, most nurture these skills through academic training in a cantorial program. The followers knew from Cantor May’s body language when to sing together and when to listen.

Cantor May also demonstrated high levels of emotional intelligence in helping the bar-mitzvah feel comfortable. I believe Cantor May naturally has a high degree of emotional sensitivity as we were close friends during our studies. She also had the opportunity to refine these skills through formal chaplaincy training ("Association for Clinical Pastoral Education,"). We both completed an introductory level of training, and Cantor May completed additional training in a full-time chaplaincy setting. Her sensitivity to Jason’s feelings was evident in the way that she showed him where to stand and made sure he had his materials comfortably close by. She adjusted the microphone, so that he would not need to worry about anything other than his bar-mitzvah material. She took a breath in sync with him to relax him and indicate when to sing. It was apparent that Cantor May spent a great deal of time preparing Jason, because whenever he was unsure, he would look to her for guidance. Cantor May’s display of leadership traits, combined with emotional intelligence make her an effective leader, particularly in this challenging setting ("Shabbat Experience - Miller Bar Mitzvah," 2021).

1. Dialogue

I also spoke with Cantor May about her role and how experience has shaped her leadership at the Greenburgh Hebrew Center. Here are a few highlights from our conversation (May, 2021).

1.How does your background, specifically your work as a hospital chaplain help in your role as clergy during these challenging times?

Cantor May: My role as a chaplain has helped me, particularly during the pandemic. As a hospital chaplain, I faced the unexpected and had to adapt. I’ve also become more sensitive to my own feelings.

2.Have you faced any unique challenges in the realm of pastoral care during this period of the COVID pandemic?

Cantor May: I was recently asked to officiate a funeral for the parent of a congregant, though we had never met in person. It was important that I have a conversation with him before his father passed away, so he could feel more comfortable with me. It was challenging and hit me hard, because my husband had recently lost his mother-in-law.

3.How do you manage relations and responsibilities with lay leaders and other professionals?

Cantor May: Our respective responsibilities are pretty clear-cut, but there have been challenges. For example, the Rabbi made comments towards me, which I found inappropriate. I struggled about what to do, and finally sent him an email. He ultimately apologized, but it was very difficult for me to address.

4.Describe your leadership style and how does it help you reach the organization’s vision, mission, values and goals?

Cantor May: I lead with compassion, leaning on my chaplaincy experience. I form connections with people and find out where they are. I am also a teacher, passing on music, liturgy and tradition to encourage all people in their growth as Jews.

III. Conclusion

In Pirke Avot, the ethics of our fathers, our sages tell us, “in a place where there are no men,

strive to be a man ("Pirkei Avot," 200 B.C.Chapter 2:5). I have always believed this verse emphasizes the importance of being a positive role model and leader. One of the early approaches to leadership, the trait theory or “great man approach” views leadership as a series of innate characteristics present in the leader. While this theory has years of research and support, other models of leadership may be more helpful to those aspiring to learn and acquire new leadership skills (Bor, 2021a).

The skills approach, like the trait theory, is leader focused, but differs in that it views leadership as skills that can be acquired and improved (Bor, 2021b). The behavior approach evaluates leadership in two domains: task-oriented behavior and behavior geared towards improving relationships (Bor, 2021c). The situational leadership model explores different approaches to leadership tailored to different situations (Bor, 2021d). Emotional intelligence, the ability to perceive and apply one’s own emotions to life’s tasks, provides an additional layer to many of these leadership approaches (Bor, 2021a).

In my observations with Cantor May, I saw aspects of trait theory, the skills approach and emotional intelligence. Cantor May has innate leadership traits like intelligence and self-confidence that make her a dynamic leader. She also has skills developed through academic and professional training. Additionally, Cantor May has a high level of emotional intelligence, acquired through personal experience, training and background as a chaplain. Cantor May’s combination of skill and experience have equipped her to lead, particularly in these challenging times. I look forward to applying all that I have learned through observation and dialogue with Cantor May in my own work as a communal leader and professional.


Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, from

Bor, Hana. (2021a). Chapter 1-2 PowerPoint slides.

Bor, Hana. (2021b). Leadership chapter 3 PowerPoint slides.

Bor, Hana. (2021c). Leadership chapter 4 PowerPoint slides.

Bor, Hana. (2021d). Leadership chapter 5 PowerPoint slides.

Greenburgh Hebrew Center | Conservative Synagogue. (2021), from

May, Cantor Anna. (2021) Observation and discussion/Interviewer: Cantor Jennifer Rolnick.

Northouse, Peter G. (2013). Leadership theory and practice (8 ed.): SAGE.

Pirkei Avot. (200 B.C.). (pp. Chapter 2:5).

Shabbat Experience - Miller Bar Mitzvah. (2021), from

70 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Welcome to the Jewish Leadership 2.0 Blog

This blog is a collection of my masters work in the areas of Jewish communal leadership and education. A wide range of topics are explored including: Leadership Theory and Practice The Evolution of t


bottom of page