The numbers of open or opening CEO positions in our system seems to grow weekly. Given that JFNA decided to walk away from the CEO placement process -- a "process" it had delegated away, as in so many things, to Mandel for years -- federations are essentially on their own, without guidance or assistance from JFNA. How daunting has this become? One professional leader in our system recently wrote this to me:
Yes, new CEOs who join the federation system in the main are those arriving from experiences at Hillel, Camping, AIPAC -- organizations with their own complexities and foci but none, I submit, as complex as the federations of today. Who will train them; who will prepare them; who will mentor them? Great questions the answer to which appears to be -- not JFNA."The huge concern is that the new Execs flooding the field as my generation retires, almost universally have no experience with or appreciation of the Collective. There is a steady drift away from core at all Feds, including Large and Large Intermediates, coupled with, of course, declining campaigns and concomitant reductions in overseas funding.”
Some had held out hope that the CEO "pipeline" might be filled from the JFNA of over a decade ago when it began it Executive Development Program -- but that hope proved ephemeral. That program lasted two years, produced but a single Federation CEO, and all of the JFNA staff for that Program had left by the time the EDP collapsed. Today there is the Leading Edge effort -- CEO onBoarding. It must have looked good on paper. The Board for the program included four Federation CEOs (one who is leaving [or has left] his position) plus the ubiquitous Jerry Silverman, who seems to find time for so much while accomplishing...what exactly? The senior consultant to CEO onBoarding is a long-time federation CEO. One might have expected a "First Cohort" to be comprised of a strong group of potential federation CEOs. Wrong. Of 11 members of this "First Cohort," 3 are sitting federation CEOs and of the total group from disparate communal organizations, 2 are from Palm Beach entities, 3 from San Francisco -- 45% of this class are from 2 communities -- I don't get it. (I also don't get how two 2 day domestic "convenings," another in Israel and 2 Webinars offers either the necessary training or constitute a "$30,000 value" as represented.)
We have Schools of Jewish Communal Service educating young, dynamic women and men in serving the communities, graduating them with incredible qualities, most of whom either join the communal system and languish eventually moving on and out, immediately find positions outside of the system, and the few, too few, who flourish in the communal system but never move up to CEO. In decades past, Federation CEOs across the continent grew their "team" and took great pride in those team members moving on to lead one community after another. Today that rarely happens, often because federation after federation look for someone with no or limited knowledge of the lingua franca of federations -- and, if Jerry Silverman is any example for anything, unable to grasp it. This search for those with little connection to federations to become CEOs used to be called "thinking outside the box;" now it is de rigeur and it is now the hiring of a well-trained communal professional as CEO that is "outside that box."
For the years post-Silverman's hiring, the message from JFNA's search agent appeared to be a "federation-trained professionals need not apply," express or implied, for open CEO positions. JFNA actively lobbied for the "Silverman model," refusing to acknowledge that (a) that model had failed in almost every community in which it had been followed; and (b) that this was an insult to all who came up federation trained and proven. It was an attitude that both demeaned the federation professional cohort and diminished the profession badly.
And, now, the chickens are returning to the roost. Even with communal leaders being urged to engage in executive succession planning, I think I can count the number of federations actually engaged in that planning on the fingers of one hand. I recall an ejewishphilanthropy Post in 2012, from the pen of Spertus College CEO Hal Lewis, Planning for Success(ion), calling for just that, read and, I guess, considered as "something others should be doing." And, this is really where the rubber hits the road. Just think about it: if in every community the lay leadership would insist on a professional succession plan, young communal pros, steeped in federation qua federation and communal values with an understanding of what federation is and could be and in the challenges of professional leadership would rise up. But, for reasons I both understand and don't, that just isn't happening...and the collapse of the federation professional cadre follows like night follows day.
So, where are we? JFNA, the organization that should be raising the hue and cry on behalf of those trained within the federation system, promoting them for the most senior professional positions within our communities, is doing the opposite and has been promoting the "Silverman model" for the past 7+ years. If anyone of you can cite a single example of JFNA urging a single federation, regardless of City-size, to choose one trained in the federations for CEO, please do so. (Maybe JFNA's leaders would state, as in so many other circumstances, "it's not our job." It is.) Among its many, many failures, this failure to promote the federation-trained pros may be, probably is, the most egregious. I, and you, have been taught as we grew within our federations and beyond, that the CEO represents continuity -- what can an untrained, unmentored senior professional parachuted in to the complex organism that are our federations today offer?
That is a rhetorical question.