When was the last time you were inspired by a Jewish leader’s words? Can’t remember? Well, neither can I. As we honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King and eagerly look forward to our new President’s inaugural address, I am reminded once again of the power of words and those who make it their job to effectively communicate them. Dr. King was possibly the master orator of his time, although some might add Presidents Kennedy and Reagan to that short list. All of them understood that real leaders must inspire others to follow and they used oratory as their principle tool for painting the pictures of a future that people at every station in life could envision and work toward.
While I write this post before President Obama delivers his inaugural address, I am already confident he will deliver a strong message. I am also convinced that he fully understands the power of words, the importance of oratory and that communication is his primary asset for advancing his vision for our nation and inspiring others to grasp it and own it as theirs.
Unfortunately, too few of our Jewish organizational leaders recognize and put real time and value in the power of their communications to move ideas and people. Rather than seizing the opportunity their positions afford them (and the digital age offers) to lead through powerful communications, they mostly invest in other activities that distract them from connecting with the very people whose support they need for any substantive change to occur. These same people all across our community are hungry for inspiration, for a clear vision of a better future and ready to follow real leadership. The times we live in make it even more important than ever that our community find inspiration and hope in their institutions and their leaders. If only these leaders would make communication their number one priority.
In the cover editorial of the January 16th New York Jewish Week, “Can Federations Seize the Moment” editor Gary Rosenblatt makes the point that in this moment of philanthropic crisis, Jewish federations are logically poised to retake the leadership of our community. Yet Rosenblatt also notes there is more to leadership than logic. Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston puts it well, “…you have to offer them (people) something worth doing, something that will inspire them.”
In the same issue of Jewish Week, David Sable, vice chair and chief operating officer of the global marketing company, Wunderman and a Jewish community activist wrote passionately of his fury at the lack of outrage within the Jewish community over the massive Madoff Scandal in an opinion piece titled, “Get Angry Over the Madoff Scandal.” Sable’s cogent argument and strong choice of words conveyed an anger we seldom see in our daily discourse. It is refreshing to know that at least one person in our community used his voice and his words to powerfully communicate a passionately held idea. This is what a strong communicator can do. And this is why communications matters.
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.