Maybe the seminal flaw at The Jewish Federations of North America today is a lack of understanding at the top of the lay/professional period of roles/responsibilities. I am going to attempt to explain, in the most simple of terms, just what those roles/responsibilities are...or should be.
In our system, the professional is the constant; the lay leaders are transient. What does this mean? First, it places a tremendous premium on the talents, the vision,the experiences and the leadership of the professionals who lead us. Where any one of those talents is missing, the trust in the lead professional begins to deteriorate. The lay leadership must be the professionals' partners bringing to their roles the ability to shape policies and build consensus -- things that presumably they have learned through their leadership experiences at their federations and in other organizations.
What I have seen through the experiences of first UJC and now JFNA have been wide leadership swings. The first Chairs were activists and their CEO just tried to please them and the federations at one and the same time; the next two Board Chairs were excellent and generous lay partners (if total delegation is "excellence") to an extremely strong CEO and President and the organization moved forward; the next Chair and the next CEO were disastrous -- to the point that the lay leaders began to micro-manage the organization, the saving grace being the federation push back, minimal though it was, on issues beyond the pale. Thus, over its first decade there were polar imbalances in the lay-professional partnership ending with the Kanfer Chairmanship during which then UJC had no accomplishments (I know -- D.C. and the "marketing/branding "study," a brand change and a new vital CEO) and an ever-widening chasm between the organization and its owners/shareholders.
Now what? Will the lessons of the emergence of the Dockers brand or the positioning of the Limited Stores have any relevance to the federation system? Do the current Chairs even understand their roles? Is anyone working to develop a lingua franca that will tie federations to JFNA in meaningful and relevant ways? Right now I fear that all of the parties are speaking in tongues with each other -- but not "with" each other. Can some group of leaders help forge a common language?
One of my readers explained to me the difference between Moshe Rabeinu and the Lubavicher Rebbe: We know that Moses is dead but we don't know where he is buried; on the other hand we know where the Lubavicher Rebbe is buried, we just don't know if he is dead. JFNA is currently buried at 25 Broadway, New York, NY.