Analysis-Paralysis: Another Call for Action on Professional Leadership

The community increasingly looks to their professional executives to envision, inspire and lead the change and those who hire executives realize that meaningful change will not occur without professional leaders who possess the vision, courage and skills to lead the process.

by David Edell

The recent articles about executive leadership raise several concerns for those who have been working on the issue. I spend my days with the people who are responsible for recruiting new executives and the professionals who are considering leadership opportunities and would like to add a “real time” perspective about the professional “pipeline” issue and its impact on the community to the discussion.

The new study by Barry Rosenberg for JPPI (Jewish Leadership in North America – Changes in Personnel and Structure) is a useful compilation of the research, writing and conversations on the subject of who will be the next executive leaders of organizations as the rate of turnover begins to increase considerably each year. While I do not think that his recommendations for action are bold enough, I appreciate his attempt to propose ways for the community to begin to address the problem rather than just reviewing the causes or becoming paralyzed by the complexity of interrelated issues that affect or are affected by the subject.

I found Dr. Kurtzer’s article (Leadership and Change in the Land of the Lost) in response to Rosenberg’s study more provocative than constructive. While I appreciate articles that critique and challenge, I believe that they must include recommendations and suggestions that add to the discussion about solutions. The article raises very important points which merit serious discussion. However, mocking the “panic” about the professional leadership pipeline, in order to raise important points about the changing nature of the Jewish community and the need for organizations to change, adapt, innovate or perhaps fail or close is not constructive.

The “panic” about the availability of executives to lead organizations is real among the volunteer leaders and supporters of large and small, established and newly created organizations and institutions throughout the community. The community increasingly looks to their professional executives to envision, inspire and lead the change and those who hire executives realize that meaningful change will not occur without professional leaders who possess the vision, courage and skills to lead the process.

In our meetings with search committees of national organizations, JCC’s JFS’s, Synagogues, Day Schools, and start-ups across the country, we hear each describe the need for a new executive who is passionate, inspiring, a creative problem solver, a state-of-the-art manager, a fundraiser and someone with the courage to lead. The problem is that they often begin each search with the belief/fear that they will not find candidates anywhere in the Jewish community’s networks with the depth and breadth of experience required to address their challenges and opportunities. Theirs is not an intellectual concern about the Jewish community’s future. They are hiring a new CEO now and the future of their community and critical services and programs their organizations provide often depend upon who they are able to recruit and hire.

Dr. Kurtzer suggests, “Young leaders already exist in the system but are reluctant to enter into a system that repels meaningful change.” Are we defining young LEADERS as those who do not seek to courageously lead organizational change that we all agree is so clearly needed? The reason that Jewish organizations and communities have succeeded in meeting challenges of each generation is that young professionals pursued the challenges and responsibilities of executive leadership. Dr. Kurtzer and all of us must play a role in making room for and encouraging young executives who are ready to lead, to step up to the work of a CEO in helping organizations to realign, reinvent and change to meet the evolving needs of the community. We need new voices and new skills to broaden our view of the possibilities for the future.

Hiring committees have the “vision of talent that focuses on inspirational capability” that Dr. Kurtzer proposes. However, as fiduciaries seeking to find new and sustainable directions to meet challenges, they struggle in interviews to listen for substance and experience as well as strategies for implementing and funding the sought after change. Often, the “antiquated style and skill-set” based upon past success in making visions happen balances the thrill of inspiration when choosing a new executive leader. The “panic” among those who hire executives is that they won’t find professional leaders who will both create new directions as well as attract new participants, leaders and funders to support them. Whether they are from established or start-up organizations, these volunteer leaders have the same “mainstream” goals to create new models that will meet the changing needs and interests of the community, manage their resources to assure effectiveness and efficiency, and secure funds to sustain their work over time. They seek a leader who will not just inspire with passion and ideas, but will inspire confidence in their knowledge, judgment and leadership as they enter into the uncharted territory of change together.

Dr. Kurtzer is a respected thinker in the community and works in an institute known for its leadership. It will be important for him, his colleagues and peers to add to the list of serious recommendations for action on this issue. Several of us have already outlined proposals for action in previous articles that were published in eJP. There are many meaningful conversations taking place throughout the community about how to address the needs for a new cadre of executive leaders in the next 3-10 years. We know how we got to this point but are struggling to develop the will to invest time and funds toward exploring solutions. With at least fifty executive transitions in Jewish community organizations each year, we must develop the group executives who will seek those positions, excited and skilled at leading them to new, responsive and impactful directions. To do so, we need a breadth of innovative thinking that will yield excitement and confidence about the possibilities of change. The time for action, not more analysis, is now and urgent.

David Edell is President of DRG Executive Search.