Laying the Foundation for Leadership

Dear Friends,

There is a midrash on the strange expression in Genesis “Let us make man.” Just who is God talking to in this story if no one has been created yet? One explanation I like is that God was actually speaking to Adam and Eve, asking them to partner in the creation of a human being. The idea of partnering in the act of creation of the self is very powerful for me as a psychologist.

I say this because I just came back from the Jewish Agency Board of Governors’ meeting in Jerusalem. Such meetings are held only three times a year, bringing together professionals and 120 board members from all around the world.

We had a lot of goals to meet. We needed to refocus and deepen our work with currently existing programs, like Masa and Birthright. We also had to discuss key strategic changes, a new organizational structure and the actual programs we need to support this new vision. We heard about cutting-edge programs to service our vision from experts in the field so that we could make well-informed choices. That’s a lot of work for only a few days, and it took days of planning and a whole team of people to make sure that we accomplished our goals.

But what energized me most was an underlying attitude change that we have been trying to implement. We want to change the way that lay leaders and professionals work together and with our client population to achieve maximum efficiency and maximum meaning in what we do. A lot of people wonder, “What do lay leaders really do?” It’s a fair question, and one I want to answer with the help of John Carver, the guru of governance.

Carver once wrote: “Governance is a ‘downward’ extension of ownership, not an ‘upward’ extension of management.” What he meant was that we must all be stakeholders in owning our institutions. We have to put our energies into deepening our understanding of the organization, its missions and its desired outcomes. We have to work together - in partnership - making genuine choices about new directions.

At the last meeting, we made Carver’s words into a reality. We laid the foundations for real policy-making together. We allowed experts to guide us in making our decisions well.

The lay/professional relationship can be challenging, but it can also be profoundly rewarding when we work in true partnership. That’s what excited me most about the last Board of Governors’ meeting. To echo Genesis, “let us make” something great together. And it was good.