Leading Change

20 December 2013  
17 Tevet 5774 

Shalom Chaverim,  

When people talk about the Jewish future and the challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish community, one of the terms we hear most often is “leadership crisis.” This “crisis” includes leadership transition—what will we do when vast numbers of sitting CEOs and executive directors step down? Will we have enough people to fill our leadership positions, and will they have the capacities to provide the quality of leadership that their particular institutions and, more broadly, the Jewish community need? I had the privilege of sharing my leadership vision with The Jim Joseph Foundation board last year; if you would like to read the article, please click here.  here is a link

In Jewish education, specifically, we have an additional challenge: defining what it means to be a Jewish educational leader. At the heart of this question are other questions about the Jewish mission and vision of our institutions and how our leaders can best serve and live out that mission and vision. For the past several years, Gann has been a laboratory school for exploring what I called in my ELI talk (the Jewish educational version of TED talks) “Jewish educational leadership with soul.” I use that term to describe an approach to leadership learning and development that focuses both on skill-development and team building as well as Jewish learning and character development.  

This approach to leadership development has been part of Gann’s broader Chanoch L’Na’ar program that aims to develop character and Jewish identity through the study and practices of Mussar, the Jewish ethical and spiritual tradition. Our theory is that, through working with individuals and small groups of students, teachers, and leaders on their personal growth and transformation, we, ultimately, shape a school culture that is purposeful and growth-oriented and that finds meaning and inspiration in Jewish learning and the wisdom of the Jewish tradition. At the heart of Jewish education and Jewish leadership is the understanding that our particular tradition speaks in powerful and profound ways to the human condition and that to learn and grow as a Jew is to learn and grow as a person, a student, teacher, or leader.  

During a d’var Torah at this week’s meeting of our administrative leadership council, this was beautifully illustrated. We had been discussing the challenges and opportunities of leading change, and our Director of Teaching and Learning, Jacob Pinnolis, unpacked for us the fears Moshe expressed when he was charged with the ultimate change leadership task—bringing the Jewish people out of Egypt.  

In the famous scene at the burning bush (Exodus, chapters 3-4), Moshe asks questions and raises objections that so many of us who have felt called on or responsible for leading a community during a time of change have felt:  

“Mi Anochi—Who am I” to be leading this change? What gives me of all people the strength, the capacity, the authority to take on a task like this? Why me? 

“V’hen lo ya’aminu li v’lo yishm’u b’koli—What if they, any of the stakeholders whom I lead and for whom I am responsible, do not believe in my vision and will not listen to me?” 

And, of course, Moshe’s famous objection: “Lo ish devarim anochi—I am not and have never been a man of words.” What if I cannot successfully communicate this message, say what needs to be said, inspire people to act? 

These are just three of the existential fears that highlight how leadership and leading change are intensely personal and profoundly spiritual work. Thankfully, Jacob did not leave us mired in Moshe’s fears or our own. He pointed out that, among God’s many responses to Moshe’s concerns, was a message from which we all can learn. “Your brother Aaron will go with you. And I, God, will be with you.” You are not in this alone. This effort will be collaborative, and you will find support and strength in your partners, both human and divine.  

Our capacities to transform ourselves and our world are extraordinary and inspiring. In that sense, we are all “leading change” in our own, different ways. The future is in each of our hands. We are in it together

I wish everyone a restful break. 

Shabbat Shalom,  

Rabbi Marc Baker 

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