Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Friends, the system that brought so many of us into leadership roles is in, at best, disarray, and, at worst, its death throes. As Gertrude Stein would have repeated, "there is no there there" anymore; just look around. Blame can be cast in so many different directions, but I'll start where I always do.

A Commentator with real insight and experience wrote:

"I do believe in the past JFNA and it's predecessor organizations did a positive job of identifying and placing talent at all levels of federations. The old adage "you have to move to move up." People were being recruited and wooed to other communities. FEREP (graduates) were a "big deal."

All of that changed when you have people in charge (Jerry and Deborah Smith -- that is her name?) who have, as you point out, no Federation history or understanding. The most successful federations have 'insiders and lifers' (some albeit too comfortable and too long in their roles) running the operation -- while those suffering (you mentioned two above) bring people with mainly outside experience.

I believe that the Mandel Center professionals and communities got blinded by the idea that we need outsiders to 'fix' our issues. And the Mandel Center even encouraged it.

I know of 2 cases where solid pros went through search processes and lost out to 'outsiders.' In each case the Mandel Center people told these individuals (highly successful in their long-term Federation work) that maybe they should leave the field for a few years and come back with outside experience. That says it all.

Finally, people always question who the customer was for the Mandel Center -- the community Federation looking to hire a person or the individuals searching for opportunities. They wanted to do both -- but you cannot. And thus the Mandel Center was just happy to fill the position no matter what happened to that person placed (yep, check that one off the list) and at the same time always told people we are here to advance your career. Too many good pros are now gone."
A friend wrote to tell me, in pertinent part: "More to the point, even if it weren’t true originally, Mandel became a placement service for the execs. Represented their interests, not those of the federations.  Period, end of sentence."  JFNA has now dropped out of the search field entirely (didn't want to pay for Mandel's work; not because Mandel had proved to be  inadequate), much attention is being paid to the embryonic  LeadingEdge, the creative creation of major foundations, and its so-called "CEO on-boarding." But, LeadingEdge CEO, Gali Cooks, who may be (and probably is) brilliant, has vast experience but not a moment spent in a federation work environment. You can go to the LeadingEdge website -- http://leadingedge.org -- and examine its professional  its leadership, almost none of whom with significant federation background or experience, and ask how can this become anything more than the blind once again leading the blind (one merely need note that Silverman serves on its "Advisory Board").*

A superb comprehensive and daunting article was shared with me by a great professional leader: "In Search of a New Generation of Jewish Leaders" in Hadassah Magazine. You should read it in full at http://www.hadassahmagazine.org/2016/09/28/search-new-generation-jewish-leaders/.  The author, Uriel Hellman, offered us an array of the options and opinions of that "new generation," some of which are astounding. The first, a young woman who was inspired to follow her dream when as a college student she interacted with Kathy Manning. Now, at 32, a senior professional at Hillel International, she concluded: “Most Hillel directors 10 years ago were rabbis and men and older. Now we have people leading who are women, openly gay, not Jewish, have disabilities, millennials.” And, I would agree that some those of those characteristics -- women, gay, disabled, millennials -- are great. But, in the words of our President: "C'mon man."

Hellman offers some sobering statistics and conclusions but no real explanation of why, as our Anonymous Commentator above has concluded, the federation system itself has, through its agents at JFNA and the federations themselves, discouraged so many of its best and brightest one the past decade, from their aspirations to move up the organizational charts and even aspire to communal and organizational leadership. And my finger points, as it often does, at those who have taken on the role of stewards of our communal values. And you know who you are.

You are the ones who sat idly by while a single lay leader mustered overwhelming support for Jerry Silverman's -- he so ill-equipped then and now for the position -- hiring as JFNA CEO. You are the ones who have watched in silence (except amongst yourselves) while community after community in their CEO searches have turned away from the best and brightest our system has produced to outsiders not even understanding that they themselves, all of whom came from inside the system, would not themselves have been hired today. While JFNA's selected Search firm, instead of offering the system's values -- values they never bothered to understand -- for those seeking to become CEOs of our communities turned the communities away from the system's best to outsiders, so many of whom, absent any and all support from JFNA, failed and failed quickly...and will continue to do so.

Because no one is talking about what has happened, one can only intuit the following: After the wrong-headed dictation of Silverman as CEO, the well-paid elusive Deborah K. Smith and her ilk at Mandel, none of whom had spent a day working inside a Jewish Federation, decided that the crumbling system would be best-served by ignoring (see the quote with which I opened this piece) the best and brightest of the next wave of federation professionals (or in the main, experienced federation lay leaders aspiring to "turn pro"). In addition, if a federation Search Committee actually stated they wished to "go outside the system" that's all Mandel needed to hear; if the federation didn't go in that direction, they were often steered there. I know of at least four instances where great federation pros were told "you need not apply; you won't be considered." The deconstruction of the federation professional cadre was underway.

I was reminded in all of this of a quote from the late, brilliant Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko:
Mike Royko, jokingly suggesting the city motto be changed from "Urbs in horto" -- ("city in a garden") To:`Ubi Est Mea' -- `where's mine?'
Yep, these leaders got "theirs" and almost none of them has actively intervened to assure that trained professionals now "get theirs." The system is dying and it is an entire generation of CEOs, through their ambivalence, their lack of interest, their federation brand of introversion, who are performing the last rites. If they had any shame they would be ashamed, but they have none. Meanwhile four great professionals, leaders of their national organization, JPro, have begun to rally fellow professionals to join in a community of interest building on their call, their cri de coeur for their profession in ejewishphilanthropy

There was a time, now pretty long ago, when a lay leader was in the running to be the first CEO of JFNA. A supporter, a major federation lay leader himself, asked Steve Hoffman, even back then the Cleveland Federation CEO, whether he might support this lay candidate. Hoffman's response: "I like _______ but it  will be over my dead body when anyone other than a Federation CEO gets that position." 

I guess that Steve died 7 years ago.


* It should be noted that Ted Farber, served as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, for a long time until he was succeeded by Dr. Misha Galperin. Ted serves a consultant to Leading Edge through his firm. You may judge Ted's effectiveness as a Federation CEO on your own; someday we will be able to judge his work for LeadingEdge when we know what it is/was. I do know this: certainly Farber has  probably forgotten more about the federation system than almost every other participant knows about federation in this process.



Anonymous said...

Dead (and I hate to use that word) on....I have had a successful Federation career, but was continually turned down for larger communities because the search committee had been inculcated with "outsider envy." They had been sold a bill of goods that someone with business experience would succeed in leading their community...that a seasoned Federation person would be stale.

I've watched those very same communities flounder and founder as the "outside" Exec spent the first year trying to understand the nuances of the system and then fail and flail in Year II...and then came the announcement, "______ will be seeking other opportunities, the Board of Directors of _____ Federation wishes him well in all his endevors and thanks him for all his effort."

And then it is back to where they were three years earlier...but with less leadership, stability, fundraising.

It is a horrible cycle.

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

Anonymous said...

Finkelstein, Shames, Ben-Shimon, (Michael) Hoffman, Minsky, Robbins, - all newer Large City Execs who came up through the system in the last few years. And outside the LCEs in the intermediate there are larger numbers.

Anonymous said...

Richard, perhaps you should take a look at the last Mandel Executive Development Program and see how many of that group are even still in the Federation field, much less became an exec. The program ended some 7-8 years ago so you would hope there would be some success stories.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous 6:58 a.m., how many of the leaders you cited "who came through the system" were hired after the community had hired and fired CEOs who came from outside the system? And weren't two of those cited hired after experience at Camp leadership and JDC, not out of a federation experience? And isn't JFNA still preaching a message of "don't hire from within; go outside the system" when asked, or even when not asked?

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:58 here. I know that at least half of them replaced long-term Federation CEOs, not after firings of outsiders. I don't know who the camp leadership Exec was but the JDC employee was a Federation employee before that.

More importantly, your comment (Anon 8:50) is a good one--isn't JFNA still preaching a message of "don't hire from within." You may be right--I don't know enough about the politics of JFNA. But my Exec has stated privately that it doesn't matter. In the end what we have now will be replaced by a stronger system and a dedicated team at the top who understand Federations.

Anonymous said...

Let's be brutally honest here.

You may "know of at least four instances where great federation pros were told 'you need not apply; you won't be considered.'"

But we all know of six or seven instances where "great federation pros" were told not to apply because the truth--that they weren't impressive, could not lead organizations, were stuck in the 1980s, were poor speakers, terrible fundraisers and awful colleagues--was too harsh to say.

So, sure, let's say it's because they "won't be considered" and blame the 'system' or 'JFNA' or whatever.

Anonymous said...

This last Comment tells us all we need to know of the depths that JFNA professional leaders and itheir consultants have reached.


By "we all know," the writer no doubt means "within JFNA and Mandel" -- because, certainly, outside of that small circle and the executives involved, no one knows.

Anonymous said...

Not true. I am the anon at 1:44 and I am no JFNA pro. I wrote what I wrote because I have grown up in the system and have seen the poor quality of what some of the 'second tier' represent.

So do me a favor and spare me the sanctimonious attack. We all know that some people are attacking the system because they couldn't get jobs they thought they were entitled to.

"We all know" really does mean "we all know." And there's a very easy way to check if I'm right--just go ask some of the real professionals in the Federations about these so-called luminaries.

RWEX said...

As readers of this Blog know, I am very familiar with "sanctimonious." But I sign my name to my sanctimony. The last correspondent, without the courage of signing his/her name meets the definition of sanctimony: "making a show of being morally superior to other people." This is the last we shall hear from this person on this Blog.

Anonymous said...

I have seen some of these 'luminaries' (nice word, by the way) in my federation. One of them was told in no uncertain terms that he would be rejected by the search committee, so he went out and told everyone that it was because they were only looking from 'outside the system.'

I haven't heard from him since the CEO was picked and has done great work since then.

Anonymous said...

Well, I didn't sign my name because you offered an anonymous comment option.

And wouldn't you rather hear truth spoken to power than bland acquiescence to untrue statements about the poorly talented? You deserve the truth.

(And by definition, if I'm anonymous, then I can't really be making a show of being morally superior, can I?)

Anonymous said...

I think I know which federation anon at 2:43 is from and I can only confirm what was written.
Just because we believe in promoting Jewish communal service doesn't mean that we have to automatically promote every professional up the ranks.

RWEX said...

To the Anonymous correspondent whose Comment I rejected -- an explanation. You identified a geographic area of the country where exist only 6 federations (I may be off by one). So, given that reality, your ugly Comment is too specific to be included here. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

I found the comment at the beginning of your article to be fascinating.

"I know of 2 cases where solid pros went through search processes and lost out to 'outsiders.' In each case the Mandel Center people told these individuals (highly successful in their long-term Federation work) that maybe they should leave the field for a few years and come back with outside experience. That says it all."

I also know of cases--one in my federation here in "the East" in which the solid pros were expecting to win the search process and were undoubtedly told by the Mandel Center that they should leave the field. At least in my federation the federation professionals and layleaders were adamant that the individuals in question should be let nowhere near the reins of power and should be gently told to look elsewhere. The candidates definitely lost to an 'outsider' but to blame the Mandel Center is to misrepresent what actually happened.

RWEX said...

Let me be clear -- there are multiple parties who are responsible for what I consider to be a mess in JFNA's abdicate of responsibility to build the profession, rather than abandon it. There is JFNA itself where its professional leaders decided to push/sell what was once considered "outside the box" hiring, attempting to match up the Silverman "experiment" (forget that it is an experiment that has failed miserably) as a "new paradigm." There is the delegation of the Search engagement by JFNA to Mandel with that organization's professionals lacking in-depth federation experience. And there was the ready acceptance by many communities of the so-called "new model" by federation leaders, many of whom saw the federation model as itself obsolete, others of whom preferred a CEO with no experience over one who might know more about how to build community than the lay leadership. And, of course, the CEO community itself, which often failed to put forward its best trained candidates for CEO positions.

Ultimately, your Comments notwithstanding, there are very, very few examples to which anyone can point where the parachute in of a CEO choice from outside the system has actually succeeded in building Campaign, in increasing donors, in building communities. In fact I have written of these failures at length; successful transitions from outside the system to system CEO will have to come in the future.

And, don't write me anonymously with statements like many above -- "we have a great outside person who is doing a fabulous job." Be specific and let's go from there.


Anonymous said...

Richard, thanks for your support of our profession, the Federation professionals, and for pointing out how the system has failed us and in so doing failed itself over the past seven years plus.

paul jeser said...

I'd like to add two other reasons:

1) The merger itself - prior to the merger the CJF played a major role in the development, placement and support of the pros.
2) The change of emphasis from 'Jewish Communal Service' to 'Non-profit Management' by schools such as HUC. What Jerry Bubis and Bernie Reisman (both of Blessed Memory) taught is very different than what is being taught today - and the result is obvious.

Anonymous said...

It should be clear to all by now that it is the merger itself that is to blame - in this area and in the many other areas of failure that have resulted from it.
We had good organizations, each with different missions and organizational cultures, which we destroyed with own hands by trying to combine them into one bureaucratic hybrid.
In doing this we lost much of the good in all of them and if this is allowed to continue we will have soon lost everything.
As you named one of your recent posts, What were we thinking?!
And as I hope you will name a future post, What are we going to do about it?!