Monday, April 3, 2017


I am always appreciative of all of you, even the critics, who take the time to read these Posts and, then, to offer your Comments. Yes, even those of you who feel that you must do so anonymously. The Comments that followed my Post -- The  Crisis In Professional Leadership -- were so thoughtful, the expressions so profound, I wanted to be certain that all of you have the opportunity to read them in a Post of their own. 

They follow:
"...your points are very well taken and accurate. As a sitting Exec trained from within the federation system I squirm every time I read about the new CEO hire who has little to no knowledge of Federation. In too many cases, perhaps a non donor or very low end donor. JFNA giving up the professional recruitment and "transitioning process" (helping professionals move up which may require moving to a new city) was a MAJOR mistake and will hurt the field for many years to come."

Dan Brown said...
"Among its many, many failures, this failure to promote the federation-trained pros may be, probably is, the most egregious."
I disagree. The most egregious is the complete failure of the national system to train the next generation of communal professionals at ALL levels - not just the "C" suite. The fault lies as much with the professional leadership as it does with lay leadership who apparently does not consider this money well spent."
And another: 
 "Should each member of a family pull in a different direction or should they try to make important family decisions together and decide together on family priorities?

Shouldn't we be thinking and acting as an extended family/community/people?That is the essence of the concept of the collective which we need to bring back into our lives and restore as a central Jewish community concept.This may be old fashioned thinking but without it we are lost - just a bunch of individuals, each pulling in different directions and with nothing left to bond them into a family/community/people.

Community was always and must always remain the central concept in our Jewish culture. That is our strength and giving up on this will be our weakness and ultimately our destruction from within.""Community is still a core of Jewish life. But federation isn't the only community. There are many communities. I'd go further and suggest there is no such thing as THE Jewish community. Each Jewish Community consists of multiple Jewish communities within it. To the degree one conflates Jewish organization with Jewish community, many Jews any don't belong to any. Some belong to several.

When there is a singular concern that is sufficiently compelling, perhaps Jews will speak with a singular voice. When there are obvious and consensus existential threats to Jews, perhaps notions of Jews en mass caring for Jews will rewaken. But for now most folks know the real deal. They know American Jewry is not under existential threat. They know that while there are threats facing European Jewry, it mostly exists in relative comfort. And they know that the state of Israel is strong and if anything being pulled apart by internal squabbling.

Simply put, the condition that united jewish communities generations ago and compelled joint fundraising and joint action are not present. And while I get the sentimentality attached to those important decades of a relatively united front, these conditions can't be contrived.

All this is not to excuse horrible organizational governance, management, leadership. If we want to run top notch organizations competing and winning in a world in which time and money are more competitive than ever, we need to invest in exceptional professional and lay recruitment, onboarding, professional development and working conditions.

JFNA is lost because we still don't know what we want from it. Without precision and clarity around its role and what its role means programmatically, its effectiveness is and will be elusive. Frankly, the conditions I describe above are present within the so-called collective organizations -- federations and JFNA. No consensus and therefore no direction and no collective action. Everybody doing their own thing. And that's within the system!"
         And, this:
"I was a member of the last Mandel EDP cohort. It is true that judging from the stated goal of preparing the next generation of senior Federation professional leaders (i.e. execs), the EDP was an abject failure. In fact, a majority of the participants (myself included) no longer work in the Federation system, with many outside the Jewish community all together. Some hit the ceiling and left; some were pushed out; others felt they had done their service to the Jewish people.

So where did it go astray? One of the principles from the program is that there are always many pieces to the mess - each piece being owned by different constituencies - such as the sitting execs, UJC/JFNA, search committees, the Mandel Center, the culture of individual federations, the EDP program selection committee, the participants ourselves. It is simplistic to point fingers in any one direction. But sadly, the results are very much the same.

Without analyzing each party, I agree with the comments that have been offered so far. I think a significant issue are sitting execs who struggle with their own professional mortality - and therefore don't engage in serious succession planning or advocate for members of their staff to move up, and are not willing to let go and empower those beneath them. Letting go may be one of the hardest issues. But the participants and others like us bear responsibility too. How many of us were prepared to raise our hands, jump into the water, take on the ultimate risk? How many were willing to uproot our lives, move our families, leave the known for the unknown? How many were prepared to step out of our comfort zones? How many were willing to lead in a system with challenges that can overwhelm even the best?

Being an exec is about managing risk, while being a staff person is more about minimizing it. There needs to be a cultural shift too, with execs pushing their professional staff into the limelight with major assignments, giving them opportunities - and recognizing them - for success, and being there with support when they don't reach the bar. That is not the current culture of many Federations. And until this changes, not only will there be less promotion from within, but there will be fewer talented young professionals looking at this work as an exciting and rewarding career path. When Federation work becomes a job and not a career, the Jewish community has lost something very meaningful."
And, then Matt Freedman, who joined and left JFNA after a successful career at The Associated, the Baltimore Federation commented:

"As a fellow participant in the last Mandel EDP program, I concur with my colleague Anon at 4:05. I left the field for a variety of personal and professional reasons, and not necessarily with a conviction I would not one day return, as perhaps I might. 

But I left a field in 2014 very much changed from the one I entered in 1995. The closest parallel I can think of is to the generation of blue collar workers in the '80s and '90s who anticipated lifelong careers in one company, only to find the sector transformed and those expectations no longer assured. Those changes in American manufacturing have been both for better and for worse - for consumers, companies and their employees. Likewise the changes underway today have made room for social entrepreneurship and innovation in Jewish life that was far more difficult 20 years ago; brought a diversity of experience and expertise to professional leadership; and created new opportunities for communal professionals, including the opportunity to explore other paths.

On the other hand, the eroding relevance of many mainstream Jewish organizations is, I observe, both a cause for and a result of the lack of professional development and succession planning referenced in these comments. The open space for innovation has spurred creativity but also widened gaps of unmet need. And my own sense of professional freedom, I will admit, co-exists with some sense of betrayal I think shared by others of my generation and experience.

Fundamentally, I believe change is inevitable and the potential for the changes in the Jewish communal system to be for good is very great. My lament, then, is all too often a lack of intentionality. Managed, strategic change, to allow for a new day and leverage new opportunities, even at the cost of some traditions and traditional values, can be net positive. Ad hoc change, much less fickle trend-following, however, does not allow for the planned and transparent approach to harnessing new trends and accommodating to new environments."
Brilliant, incisive, one and all. Thank you. It's too bad that these pleas for change, for real change no doubt will be ignored.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a federation professional Thank you for putting the issue of JFNA abandonment of the communal professionals front and center, I question as well how the Large City Executives of today can escape their role in what has become of the profession itself. Maybe they've been too busy feathering their own nests to worry about the destroyed profession that they will leave upon their retirements; almost all of them have been recognized by our professional organization for the models they once were. I suggest they return those awards in recognition of their abandonment, alongside with and complicit in JFNA's abandonment, of the profession that has allowed so many of them to become multi-millionaires.