Compass and Anchor: lessons in change management from a Jewish perspective

We’re delighted to share our platform with friends who bring different perspectives that shine a fresh light on the work of organisations and leading. Hagit Amsterdam recently completed a Masters’ thesis looking at some Jewish perspectives on organisations and change.   Below, Will Gardner & Philippa Hardman relate these perspectives to our own work in GameShift.

“Hagit writes about the importance of ‘a solid point of reference’ and shared foundations as both a compass and an anchor in times of change. In our work on organisational Purpose, we use a tool called a Compass to capture on one page the (shared) Purpose, Values and strategic pillars of the organisation. It’s powerful as a way of grounding everyone in a joined up narrative of why we’re here, where we’re going and how we work together.” Will Gardner

“Collaboration, asking good questions, and trying out actions as a response to times of turbulence and uncertainty are part of the five principles Hagit sets out for dealing with change in times of uncertainty.  This resonates closely with the way that we work with our clients – working together, being curious, experimenting – and it’s great to see it talked about from this different frame of reference”.  Philippa Hardman

Compass and Anchor: lessons in change management from a Jewish perspective

One of my beloved teachers once shared an insight about experienced seamen, noting that during a rough storm, their skill and wisdom lies in them stabilising the ship, rather than calming the sea.

In my research, titled: “Compass and Anchor: Spiritual leadership in the business world – A Jewish perspective”, I explored spiritual and value-led leadership, by interviewing senior Jewish business leaders from diverse industries, such as professional services, retail, pharma and others, about how Jewish values and their meaning are expressed in their leadership styles and practices.

One might ask, what is special and unique about Jewish values? I would argue this is perhaps the wrong question, with the right question being: What can we learn from Jewish values and what do we have in common as humankind? How can we strengthen those values that we want to enhance?

It is during turbulent times like these, with Covid-19 presenting us with a unique crisis and Black Lives Matter highlighting the injustices and fragility of our human existence, that we may be inspired to examine how the values and wisdom found in Judaism can perhaps offer us a toolkit for organisational and civil leadership that may benefit all of us, both individually and organisationally.

Notably, within the field of research of spirituality in the workplace there is an increasing consensus regarding core values (Kriger & Seng, 2005). These values are also in line with those found in the core teachings of five religions, including Judaism, with Smith (2009) identifying that there are common values that are shared by all religions, which are humility, charity, veracity and vision.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said “At the heart of Judaism are three beliefs about leadership: We are free. We are responsible. And together we can change the world.”  (Sacks, 2012).

Among the themes that emerged from the research was a common thread relating to change management from a Jewish perspective, offering wisdom that despite its foundations in Jewish values and way of being (“Yiddishkeit” and something you “know in your kishkes” – guts in Yiddish) are universal and transferable and can benefit all of us.

Here, I outline five of these principles that can serve as a compass and anchor for anyone dealing with change management:

  1. Coming back to first principles:

What are the foundations that we rely upon? Having a solid point of reference serves both as a compass, in leading the way, in guiding through change, and as an anchor, helping us finding our ground, support and stability throughout the chaos, and navigating the way.

As one leader said: “You don’t have to know the answers. You just have to make sure you understand the questions.”

  1. It is about collaboration and humility

As Rabbi Sacks observed, no one can lead alone (Sacks, 2012). And furthermore, it is about collaborative vision creation, and the covenant nature of the leader, as one leader shared: “Paint a picture of what you’re trying to do. And put that picture up on the wall… It’s a story.  …I always … say this is the picture of where we’re trying to go to. And then, I remove my ego from it and I step back…now is your chance to attack this picture.”

  1. There may be a dark side, however…

The concept of dark side emerged around the way positive traits attributed to Jewish leaders (and can be expanded to all value-led leaders) could be accentuated or derailed under certain circumstances and lead to unwanted results. One of the leaders referred to this idea, though from a different perspective, stating: “Being Jewish also has some negative sides to things. We’re awkward, we’re opinionated. We’re independent, we don’t take advice. We don’t listen. We interrupt…”

However, very often it is precisely this dark side that by asking many questions, challenging constantly and having radical thought, may not be encouraged within organisations but can create great leadership, the kind of leaders we all aspire to be and become. So, some thought may be required towards the type of organisation that sees the value in that and allows, even rewards, the pioneers and challengers. Though truth be told, many of the leaders interviewed ended up founding their own companies, probably for that very reason.

  1. As we emerge from the storm…

How do we know we have emerged from the storm to begin with? This would be a worthwhile question on its own, but it is about what we take with us, our key learnings, experiences and the way they’ve shaped us.

It is connecting and knowing what are those issues that matter and at the same time, challenging the status quo, daring to pioneer, essentially due to the guiding principles.

  1. Change the world…

A key Jewish concept, that resonated significantly throughout the research, was “Tikkun Olam”. This means world repair and refers to making the world a better place by one’s actions, as part of moving the needle and making a difference, making a real impact, moving to transformative CSR (Visser, 2016) and sustainable organisations and systems, raising a question which I am leaving open for now – should all businesses aim to become social enterprises?

This leads to a final thought, as we become more and more skilful at stabilising the ship, leveraging spiritual and value-led leadership in both turbulent and smooth-sailing times. We should aim to always ask why, going back to first principles, and to the purpose and meaning of our actions. Knowing where we came from and that it is not about stabilising the ship in itself, it is about where we are, and where we are heading.

Hagit Amsterdam


Kriger, M., & Seng, Y. (2005). Leadership with inner meaning: A contingency theory of leadership based on the worldviews of five religions. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(5), 771-806.

Smith, H. (2009). The world’s religions, revised and updated: A concise introduction. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Sacks, J. (2012, June 14). Seven principles of Jewish leadership. Jerusalem Post.

Visser, W. (2016). The future of CSR: Towards transformative CSR, or CSR 2.0. In A. Örtenblad (Ed.), Research handbook on corporate social responsibility in context (pp. 339-367). Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar Publishing