Becoming a Real Leader in the Jewish Community: A Review

Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals by Misha Galperin (Jewish Lights Publishing; $16.99; available August 24th)

Although it may be hard to believe that a book about leadership can be exciting, Reimaging Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals by Misha Galperin is exactly that. This book offers a new and innovative way to conceptualize successful leadership and provides a framework for understanding how organizations can benefit from both a clear verbalization of what a leader is and what goes into developing leadership skills.

Dr. Misha Galperin, CEO and President of the Jewish Agency International Development, has served as the Associate Director of the New York Association for New Americans, the Co-Chief Operating Officer of the UJA-Federation of New York and the Executive Vice-President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. With this book, he provides us with a new twist on an old idea: Ten lessons for successful leaders. His professional responsibilities have given him a unique lens in which to view both the roles leaders play, as well as what they should be doing to ensure the successful functioning of the organizations that make up Jewish communal life.

The book is written in an easy to read style and is not limited to the conceptual development of leadership. Dr. Galperin provides us with guide to the issues facing all professional and volunteer leaders in their work with organizations. His descriptions of what qualities he looks for in a leader helps us define and comprehend what makes a leader effective, as well as what we should strive to fulfill when looking for someone to lead our organizations.

Not everyone is suited to be a leader. All too often people are placed in leadership positions because they have donated a significant amount of money to one of the community’s organization or because a position has to be filled with someone who is available. When there is greater clarity about what is needed and desired then the community will be more selective and reach out to those who possess the appropriate abilities and skills.

In brief, the qualities leaders should possess include: 1) being able to inspire others 2) optimism, being unafraid to make mistakes and make decisions 3) willing to raise questions without rejecting the history of an organization 4) willing to be courageous and do what needs to be done, and 5) willing to change themselves when necessary. As Dr. Galperin says, “Leadership learning involves assimilation and accommodation.”

After identifying what goes into being a leader, Dr. Galperin goes on to list the 10 lessons that enable people to fulfill the purpose of the organization through implementing change and achieving their goals. In discussing these lessons, Dr. Galperin does not limit the presentation to a conceptual framework, but rather filters them through his own personal experiences. For example, he weaves together his professional experiences with anecdotes from his personal journey of living in the former Soviet Union until he was a teenager when he immigrated to the United States. The stories and examples he uses add both depth and charm to the discussion of what makes for successful leadership.

The book balances the conceptual with the tachlis (specific, practical suggestions) for what it means to develop into a leader or how to assist others in becoming leaders. Dr. Galperin rightly points out that not everyone is suited to be a leader and there needs to be a confluence of one’s abilities, one’s interests and one’s ability to develop the appropriate skills. For example, when a person is hired, the focus should be on the whole person and not just on the relevant experience they have had in the past. It is important to make an investment in the right person. When you have the right person then you then can nurture them to grow into successful leaders.

The issue of volunteer – professional relations has assumed an important place in Jewish communal service. Dr. Galperin identifies the issues that have been points of tension, even to the point of acrimony, and he offers a blueprint for what partnership means when it comes to working together in our communal agencies. He writes, “Partners don’t have to agree about how best to achieve the mission, but they do have to be on the same page about the importance of the mission.” Once they are in agreement, the partnership is then able to join together the policies and the professional knowledge and skills needed to achieve the mission. The ability to coordinate their efforts is based on the professional leader who offers inspiration, continuity, and sustainability.

Without spoiling your reading of the book by providing you with all the ten lessons, I would like to mention three of them and encourage you to read the book to learn about the others. It is refreshing to emphasize the importance of a leader being inspired and how that inspiration leads to a vision. Once there is a vision the leader needs to be able to clearly identify what must to be done and it is crucial to “zero in on what’s important.” These three elements (vision, inspiration and focus) are part of what a leader needs to learn in order to be successful.

You will find the ten lessons that are discussed instructive whether you are a professional or a lay leader. They offer guidelines for how our communal organizations can move from the status quo to being creative and dynamic in strengthening our Jewish community. After all, the institutions that make up our communal structure are only as successful as the people who lead them. I hope you not only find Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations stimulating and thought provoking, but also identify the aspects that you can implement into your involvement in the Jewish community.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.