Leading the Way

Earlier this week, Michael Weiner, Chairman of the Board, and I were in Chicago for a workshop for new Federation Chief Executives and volunteer Chairmen. Seven communities – Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Northern New Jersey, Montreal, Minneapolis, and Portland were represented. Despite population size and fundraising total differences there were many commonalities between the Federations in regard to challenges – loss of donors, development of young leaders, Israel conversations, aging donor base, and geographical sprawl to name a few.

The conference was focused on developing and enhancing the relationship between the CEO and Chairman (interestingly, I had the longest tenure, 20 months, of any of the new Executives in the room). Now, I do believe that Michael and I have an excellent working partnership. It is, however, always important to understand the “styles” of one another to enhance the relationship even further. Thus, everyone did an online assessment to identify their greatest strengths (Michael and I both agreed it was spot on), responded to a questionnaire to determine each person’s style for conflict resolution (we are two very different people), and we provided one another with important positive and constructive feedback. It was a valuable learning tool since we now understand “what makes each of us tick” and how to best work together going forward.

In addition, we talked about what “leading” means from the Chairman and the CEO. For today and the future, the Jewish community requires “thought leaders” – people willing to generate new ideas, challenge the status quo and create an agenda of change – along with the courage of conviction in moving the agenda forward. This is what the great leaders and great companies of today do. And there are many in our community who are taking this role. Yet, with change comes tension. There must always remain a respect for history, tradition and culture.

While driving change, which is difficult, leaders cannot be stymied by the fear of “turning people off.” As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric wrote, “Guarded behavior may minimize the ire of those who disagree with you, yet it does not energize anyone either. Leadership requires attention and action!”

It was amazing how the messaging at the two day conference was so similar to Adam Lashinsky’s new book, Inside Apple, a behind-the-scenes look at how Apple functions. The book shares inside details of the company’s practices and values, the interactions between the CEO and his colleagues, and how Apple is in a never-ending process of change. A few highlights:

·         Saying “no” is a core tenet of Apple product development and, for that matter, Apple’s approach to doing business. Focusing is powerful. Focus is not about saying yes. It is saying no to really great ideas and figuring out what not to do.

·         Apple can put its entire product line on a conference room table – a result of the winnowing process that occurred during Steve Jobs’ second tenure at the company.

·         The goal of Apple is not to make money, but to make really nice products, really great products. Apple obsesses over the user experience, not revenue optimization.

·         Apple’s company values are derived from the following attributes – clear direction, individual accountability, a sense of urgency, constant feedback and clarity of mission.

·         Employees are willing to fight for their ideas and concepts, yet realize at the end of the day decisions are based on what is best for Apple as a company.

·         Apple has excelled at selling a lifestyle.

·         Steve Jobs said, “One of the biggest challenges facing established companies – and people for that matter – is stagnation. Human minds settle into fixed ways of looking at the world and that has always been true. And the world changes and keeps evolving and new potential arises, but these people who are settled in do not see it.”

The above are all key lessons and questions for Federation and other Jewish communal organizations to listen and learn from. We have human and financial resource limitations. If we cannot provide an excellent service or program should we do it at all? Do we offer too many programs and services? Can we enhance the “customer experience” from the beginning leading to on-going involvement? Are we aligned as Jewish communal organizations for the benefit of the “greater good” or just for our individual organizational purpose and survival? Can we “excite” Jewish communal life/involvement/identity just as Apple has created “must have” products? And are we able to evolve and get ahead of the curve, instead of focusing on the past and tinkering with the status quo?

Once we answer these questions HONESTLY we will be able to move forward and make a greater impact on Jewish life. Federation is working hard to lead the way. Change is upon us and we are changing.

Shabbat shalom.



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