Word of the Day / Rosh Gadol: What Sort of Head Do You Have?

In Israel, "big head" refers not to your ego but to your ability to think outside the box.

Shoshana Kordova
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Rosh Gadol.Credit: Bloomberg
Shoshana Kordova

In English, if you’ve got a big head, it means you’re full of yourself, swollen with your own importance. But in Hebrew, “rosh gadol,” which literally means “big head,” is usually a positive term signaling that the bearer of this head is capable of seeing the big picture, of taking responsibility and initiative, of demonstrating leadership, and of going beyond the job description or the call of duty (no surprise it started out as a term in the Israeli army). If you’re a CEO, it’s pretty certain you fall under this category.

Because this term is particularly applicable to the workplace, it often makes its way into job ads, like this one for a webmaster: “Seeking candidate with a rosh gadol and an interest in developing and learning new skills.”

By contrast, someone with a “rosh katan,” or “small head,” sticks to the specific task or directives at hand, even when the situation calls for initiative and flexibility. A rosh katan doesn’t ask questions or think much, and probably prefers coffee breaks than being productive. If you’ve ever had an infuriating experience at some government office, you were probably dealing with a rosh katan.

While some workplaces, such as law firms, are likely to actively seek employees who use their heads, there are certain jobs where the rosh katan approach is preferable because there isn’t much room for innovation. Advising new Israel Defense Forces recruits to ask themselves “Which head am I?” an unofficial guide explains that people with a rosh katan mentality should avoid positions like Military Intelligence NCO, which is demanding and requires late hours, while those with a rosh gadol should steer clear of a job at the quartermaster’s store, where they won’t feel they are fulfilling their potential because of the limited responsibilities.

Just keep in mind that while it’s fine to be gratified if your rosh gadol ends up getting you a sought-after promotion, you shouldn’t let it go to your rosh. Because even in Israel, no one likes a swelled head.