Monday, January 11, 2016


When my friend Andy Groveman was installed as the Chair of United Israel Appeal, he sent a book that had inspired him to leadership to the UIA Board and to the officers of JFNA, including the CEO/President, Smilin' Jerry Silverman. The book On Thinking Institutionally, by Professor Hugh Heclo is compelling, truly "must reading" for anyone aspiring to institutional leadership -- I wish I had read it in 2008, the year of its publication; I wish Professor Heclo had written it 40 years ago so that I might have had it as a guidepost as I began my work in Jewish organizational leadership. It's just that important.

Heclo's analysis of organizational growth, leadership and death, is filled with conclusions, with which most of us would agree, I am certain. One that sticks with me, even today, weeks after reading, is this:
"Lies, short-term thinking, self-promotion, denigration of duty, disregard for larger purposes -- all these amount to one common syndrome serving to undermine social trust and institutional values. The names of particular persons and organizations fade from our memory, only to be replaced by the next day's news of scandal and short-sighted stupidity. A lack of institutional thinking may not be the whole story, but there is a common thread  about people neglecting and dishonoring the longer-term values of the going concern of which they are a part." (Emphasis added.)
In too many places today...and, in particular, at JFNA...the kind of critical thinking about the values that underpin Jewish organizations is just not taking place but the neglect and dishonoring of the "the longer-term values" are taking place every day.

Professor Heclo would have a lot to say about JFNA just as he has about failing organizations everywhere. Then, after reading On Thinking Institutionally, I was privileged to read the brilliant and touching commencement address delivered to the recipients of  Masters of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, by Jim Rosenberg, the Chief of Staff at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Jim is but one of a significant group of dedicated young professional leaders here: our community is truly blessed. Jim's speech was touching and profound with major insights into the values that Heclo has analyzed and which Jim offers us as his guiding principles. 

I could share with you, my friends, so many insights, but just one will suffice. Jim offers, as a guiding leadership principle, the words of Chicago's great senior professional, the remarkable Michael Kotzin, z'l, who passed away so recently:
"A conclusion I came to shortly after I started working at the Federation, as I tried to account for its success on many fronts, was that it was at once attached to earlier ways of doing things and at the same time committed to exploring new approaches. In both cases its agenda and style were driven by what needed to be done. [And] while we indeed need to take innovative steps, we also need to maintain those traditional steps which continue to work, with our goal not being to merely throw out the old and bring in the new but rather to draw upon what is both old and new, using whatever approach (or combination of them) best satisfies the needs we are trying to address."
Such a simple formula for organizational success. And, yet...and, yet... is the management guru, Jim Collins, once a Plenary speaker at a once well-attended GA, who made it clear that an institution, one like JFNA, a child of merger, can only succeed if built upon the "core values and timeless principles" of its predecessors. From what I read in On Thinking Institutionally, Professor Heclo would absolutely agree. Yet, the attempts by Smilin' Jerry and the Board Chairs who preceded Richard Sandler to wholly erase institutional memory have been the truly negative success of the organization during their time in what they called "leadership." Friends, there are but few left at 25 Broadway with even an inkling of the organization's, the system's, core values and timeless principles. What we have at 25 Broadway is that which Helco described in the paragraph quoted above. 

This must stop. Richard Sandler and his leadership cannot be satisfied until it does. Thanks to Andy Groveman for sharing this work that so inspired his leadership path with all of us.



Anonymous said...

Yes. Sadly only CJF values are left and even there only remnants.
UJA is dead and UIA is evidently targeted.
Somehow it seems that folks really believe that a successful merger means a clean slate rather than a union and synthesis of a sacred collection of institutional values.
And so, we continue to wander in the dark - without leadership that even knows or cares about what once was the essence of our communal collective existence.
New and different is all that matters and those good old intitutional values are just something to be disgarded and abandoned so that we can "move on."
Do we really have a death wish or is it just that we just don't care anymore?

Anonymous said...

The for sale sign and potential demise of The New Republic magazine reported in today's Forbes offers a cautionary tale on the limits and surprisingly high failure rates of the "innovation economy" and the pursuit of faddishness. When clueless and in doubt the much touted new entrepreneurs just give up and move on.

Anonymous said...

JFNA's dead, requiem en....