Four Lessons from the Day of Leadership Learning

Inside Leadership

Four Lessons from the Day of Leadership Learning

Group of people in discussion around a table at the Day of Learning

Great leaders understand that reflection, feedback, and evaluation of our endeavors are at the heart of our work and they have much to teach us. What went well? What didn’t go as planned? How do we tweak for next time? Should there even be a next time? How can we apply what we learned as we move forward?

And so it is that we want to pause to reflect about what we learned both from planning the URJ Day of Leadership Learning and during the day itself. The response to the event, held in 65 locations across North America, was overwhelmingly positive. More than 1,200 individuals participated, and many shared that our speaker, Joan Garry, offered insights that will be extremely valuable for their congregations.

These four lessons, important in our reflective process, also have implications for the work of congregational boards.

1. Plan, plan, plan.

You can plan endlessly, but you can’t plan for every possible contingency. The attacks on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh the day before had enormous implications for our community and left us all in shock and pain. Should we move forward? If we do, how should we acknowledge this tragic event?

As leaders, there will be times we will feel “frozen” and unsure about how to proceed. At these moments, it’s important to regroup, reassess, and consider what would be best and most appropriate for our people.

That is what we did. Working in partnership, our URJ professionals and volunteer leaders met, redesigned the program, and informed the many people involved of the changes. We were able to pay respect to the victims in Pittsburgh and continue the sacred work of empowering congregational leaders.

2. Acknowledge the power of being together.

When Israel stood at Sinai to receive the Torah, the verse states: “Israel camped there opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). The Midrash notes that Israel – in the singular – is “as one person with one heart.” When one of us is in agony, all of us are in agony.

Together is exactly where we needed to be in that moment. Starting the day in prayer for our community in Pittsburgh, we were bereft. As the day progressed, we realized how important it was to share ideas, lament common challenges, and think of great ideas... together. The power of working together for the greater good of our congregations and our Reform Movement was strong, and it was necessary.

3. Focus on generative thinking, planning, and action.

The work of many boards centers on the day-to-day business of running the synagogue and facts and figures, known as fiduciary work. Although this work is important, boards, as the shepherds of the congregation’s mission and vision, cannot and should not spend meeting time only in the fiduciary mode of governance.

They need to spend time also thinking creatively and in partnership with the congregation’s professional staff, when there is one. Engaging in generative thinking is what makes board work fun and rewarding. Spending more time in the generative mode of governance is critical for how leaders run their board and this realization was an “aha” moment for many participants.

Why is this important?

According to Dr. Richard P. Chait, the father of generative thinking, “many board members are ineffectual not because they are confused about their role, but because they are dissatisfied with their role.”

As congregational leaders, we go to great lengths to attract talented, bright, and successful trustees. However, we will lose these trustees if opportunities are not commensurate with their capacity, and they become bored. To attract – and retain – out-of-the-box congregational leaders, board meetings and agendas must include time for out-of-the-box thinking.

4. Articulate the honor and privilege of congregational board service.

At this crucial moment in history, as thoughtful people seek to volunteer for organizations that speak to their beliefs and reflect the goodness in the world, the synagogue board is uniquely poised to meet this need.

We know from conversations with board members past and current that serving their congregation is a pivotal part of their Jewish journey. As such, it is our responsibility to share this important opportunity with others whom we feel can contribute and benefit from board service, as well as from the joy, gratification, and blessing of serving the Jewish community.

Have something to say about this post? Join the conversation in The Tent, the social network for congregational leaders of the Reform Movement. You can also tweet us or tell us how you feel on Facebook.

Vivian Gealer, a lay partner on the URJ lay resources team, chairs the work of URJ board workshops. She also serves on the URJ’s North American Board. Gila Hadani Ward is the URJ’s director of lay resources. Vivian and Gila were members of the URJ Day of Leadership Learning planning group.

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