Friday, July 18, 2008


When the very patient IT staff at my law firm respond to my periodic cries for help with my laptop, if all else fails their advice is simple: "try a reboot." That is exactly what our national system needs -- a full and complete and immediate reboot. In this Post I will suggest both why and what is needed, in my opinion, to reset UJC as the federations' vehicle for the expression of their will, their vision and their passion.

UJC is at a crossroads -- continuing down the same unfocused path that leads away from the owners or finding real focus through new, responsive leadership. While UJC has done fine work in its Washington Office, in Disaster Relief, in the integrity of its Finance & Administration Department, in federation bench-marking and in creating the "collaborative model," consider the following:

  • Acronyms presented as programs (I-LEED, IO:GO, CJP, PCC, and new ones added seemingly weekly);
  • Unilateral actions characterized as "administrative" excluding lay governance participation or engagement reflecting leadership's "ends justify the means" attitude;
  • The constant deprecation of the annual campaign without regard for the impacts such public disparagement would have on the lifeblood of our system. Even today, the CEO writes that the Annual Campaign, at least for UJC, becomes part of "...a menu of choices";
  • A professional leadership that has pushed out senior professional women time and time again while UJC lay leaders ignored or chose to turn a blind eye toward what was and is clearly a management problem with enormous negative implications for 50% of the donors to and leaders of the federation owners. In an incisive article accompanying the executive search firm, DRG,Inc.'s, monthly message -- It's All in How You Treat People -- the authors, a clinical psychologist and a human resources consultant, conclude: "..people don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses;"
  • Outsourcing core functions without process;
  • Continuing acts of character assassination of lay and professional leaders who expressed even principled disagreement with a leadership who mistakenly appear to view themselves as the ownership rather than as ownership's representatives;
  • An overwhelming set of "asks" for funding over and above Dues without any discussion or debate with the federation owners as to priorities. "Asks" that arise without approval by the federations -- and the list keeps growing; and
  • While firing 38 loyal, dedicated and, in the main long-term, professionals and support staff, no thought appears to have been given to reducing senior management compensation while, for example, JAFI management initiated the reduction of the compensation of their senior managers at a time of reduced revenues and increasing deficits.

What more needs be said -- UJC requires new, inclusionary leaders whose vision is that of the federations and it requires them now.

The best/worst example of this UJC lay and professional leaderships' failure to comprehend their proper roles, and their refusal to even entertain the input of UJC's owners, was evidenced in the "roll-out" of their so-called Reorganization Strategy in March 2007. A group of lay leaders were "invited" to travel to a meeting in New York for a "head's-up" on the contemplated changes. At the outset of the meeting, the Board Chair advised the group about like this: "After our presentation, you can ask any questions you want but no changes will be made and we will have no discussion." Who can even imagine that such a thing could take place anywhere else in our system? But, that's how it is at our UJC.

It is past time for the owners to take the difficult challenging steps to restore trust and integrity to and confidence in our national institution.

In my past role as UJC's Chair of Emerging Communities, as the immediate past Chair of the Jewish Agency North America Council and as Chair of the United Israel Appeal, I have been privileged to have visited with so many lay and professional leaders in so many federations across North America. When I have engaged with them, I have listened carefully. At a time when my reports were welcome, I consistently advised UJC's Board Chair and CEO of communal concerns with UJC -- bloated budgets, a lack of engagement, lack of priorities, top-down programmatic dictation and a lack of focus on the things federations care most about. I was a reporter of federation discontent not a provocateur. UJC's leaders chose to "shoot the messenger" -- and ignored the message.

Even when this Spring the Large City Executives presented their gently stated but comprehensive and telling critique of UJC in an expansive Paper Refining UJC's Vision, these UJC leaders (1) refused (and continue to refuse) to distribute the Paper beyond their tiny "Circle of Trust" to even UJC's own Executive Committee; and (2) instead, rewrote the Paper, severely editing it to their liking, and circulated the now "acceptable" emasculated report under the identical title with the promise of a "leadership retreat" in January '09. Worst of all, in my years of experiences with the predecessor organizations and with UJC since its birth, never have I witnessed the lay leadership and donor disengagement from the national system as it is today...never. As UJC's leadership have deconstructed UJC at continuing great cost to the system with little return on federations' investment, it is time for a change at the top. Now.

A New Search Committee. We have learned from experience that not all federation professionals can readily transfer the skill set that made them so successful locally to the national institution. In the Baseball Major Leagues, I'm told, they talk about "the Thing." "The Thing" is an affliction that has driven many excellent baseball players from the the "Big Leagues." Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblach, Steve Blass and Mackie Sasser, among others, caught "the Thing"(also called "Steve Sax Syndrome,""Steve Blass Disease," etc.) -- they were fabulous players who suddenly couldn't throw the ball. And when they threw it. it was way off target. It appears that UJC's CEO upon his move to UJC caught "the Thing." While I could provide a list of examples, I choose not to because they are known to all of you. I have heard from so many lay leaders of their experiences with Howard or their opinion of him after observing or interacting with him, that it is not necessary to compare the criteria in Professor of Management Terry Leap's Wall Street Journal article "Spotting a Flawed CEO..." reprinted in an earlier Post with this CEO's actions over his time in the position. The facts, as they say, speak for themselves.

It is time for a new Search Committee of federation lay leaders to seek out the best and brightest to lead UJC into the future -- a Search Committee comprised of Federation Chairs from each City-size; a Blue Ribbon Search Committee that, under New York's Susie Stern's leadership, must be expanded away from the small group of UJC Officers who with this CEO have led UJC down the paths to where it is today. And, where to look?

First, some examples of what UJC needs: the incomparable management skills of Stanley Horowitz, the inspiration of Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, the dignity and integrity of Phil Bernstein, z'l, the creative genius of Brian Lurie, the brilliance and vision of a John Ruskay, a Misha Galperin, a Jeffrey Solomon, a Jon Woocher and a Steve Hoffman, the fund raising skills, charisma and creativity of a Mark Terrill, a Jeff Klein and a Bob Aronson and the comprehension by all of them of our lay-professional partnership and the core values embodied in our federations' collective responsibility. Among the professional leaders in the other City-size groupings are women and men of equally great commitment, creativity, integrity and enthusiasm. Of course, of them all, I continue to believe that Steve Nasatir embodies all of the requisite characteristics along with the skill to build consensus, unite our communities and lead. There are those who still lead their federations who have made it known that they are not interested. If one of them cannot be convinced that it his time, then this new Search Committee must reach beyond the Large City Executive "pool" and seek a professional leader without regard to gender with an understanding of our system and the skills of those listed above...without the "flaws."

A New Nominating Committee. In the past, the UJC Nominating process has been, for lack of a better word, "corrupted" by the active participation of the CEO in its deliberations. This time, the Nominating Committee needs to find its "independence" and seek out the best Chairs for UJC going forward without the often invidious influence of the sitting Chairs or CEO. We have some terrific models from the life examples of those who are past leaders of our system: the passion, understanding of the federation system and caring of Shoshana Cardin, the warmth, magnetism and inspiration of Marvin Lender, the humor and wisdom of Maynard Wishner, the inspired creativity of Carole Solomon, the enthusiasm, leadership legacy and youthful exuberance of Richie Pearlstone, the examples of their own commitments of a Bill Berman and Alex Grass, the warmth and love of Herschel Blumberg, the ability to forge consensus of Conrad Giles, the humor, cynicism and humanity of Sonny Plant, z'l, the commanding presence and integrity of Corky Goodman. Every one of these men and women loved people and the interaction with them. They loved, as well, the give and take over ideas and embraced the reality that better ideas come from real engagement, debate and criticism. Each of these leaders left a lasting and positive imprint on modern Jewish organizational history -- and each still does. We need to find the person(s) who will do so as well under the UJC banner.

Are such persons out there? Of course there are. Instead of talking about the "NextGen" as if they are not yet ready to lead, we have such young leaders in our midst who are ready to assume UJC's leadership -- they are not only our future, they can be our present. We have business leaders engaged with our federations and our international partners who must be persuaded to take on the incredible challenge of rebuilding UJC from the ground up in partnership with a new Chief Professional Officer. These leaders need to be sought out, recruited, convinced.

Why Now? Some will suggest that it wouldn't be "nice" to act now. The Chairs' Terms, were they renominated, will be up in 16 months; the CEO's contract expires next year. Why not wait? Because UJC can't afford another 16 months. As I write, a growing number of federations have already concluded that the value-added of UJC to them is not measurable and contemplate not paying their allocated "fair share" dues even after the mandated budget reduction to $37 million. Each day the gulf between what federations want from UJC and what UJC is delivering grows wider and the sense that no one at 111 Eighth Avenue is listening grows apace. Because the Jewish Agency and JDC and our national agencies operate on fumes while these UJC leaders push for their pet projects and additional asks for critical needs without any prioritization of needs, our entire system is being deconstructed. More and more, federation leaders and UJC Board members are pointing out that the Emperors' New Clothes are non-existent. And on and on. We can't afford to wait as United Jewish Communities collapses under the weight of unfulfilled promise.

Yes, the immediate actions called for here are strong medicine. UJC is broken; but it is not beyond repair. But, the federations, the owners of UJC, need to fix it, need to get the train back on the tracks, to, as it were, "put Humpty-Dumpty together again." At its onset, UJC was pointed in the direction of transformational change; today, the transformational change must be of UJC itself. The enterprise is truly at risk -- only UJC's lay and professional leaders, hermetically sealed from reality, refuse to acknowledge the reality. We need a strong, vibrant, compelling and focused United Jewish Communities as the central address and rallying point for our federations and donors. We need to find the leaders who can take us there; leaders who love people; leaders who welcome with respect and consideration ideas other than their own; leaders who can rally the professional staff at 111 Eighth Avenue and lay and professional leadership around North America to great achievements

From all of those of you who have communicated with me, I know how many believe the time is ripe for change. Now, dear friends, it is up to you; it is up to all of us. Time to reboot.

Let me know how I may help.

Shabbat shalom,


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