CEO Onboarding: An investment in the Jewish Future

invest in futureBy Dov Ben-Shimon and Abby Porth

How do we hire and fire?

What constitutes leadership? And what’s the difference between leadership and management?

What are the values of Jewish institutions? And how should their executives display them?

One of us (Dov) has been CEO of his Jewish Federation for slightly more than 18 months; the other (Abby) starts officially in her new role July 1. And together, with nine colleagues from across the nation, we form the first cohort in the innovative CEO Onboarding Pilot Program.

We come from a diverse collection of Jewish federations, public/community relations and service organizations that work to create robust, vibrant Jewish communities. At this time when our American Jewish community is refashioning how it facilitates expressions of Jewish life, this CEO Onboarding program is an invaluable support for the heads of leading Jewish nonprofits who will wrestle with these challenges. And, CEO Onboarding is a laboratory for exploring how such support might create a pipeline for and buoy future leadership of our communal organizations. Through independent evaluation of the program and feedback from current cohort members, program organizers and other stakeholders are gaining a deeper understanding about the specific leadership support and learning opportunities most helpful to current and future Jewish nonprofit heads. Subsequent cohorts thus will receive even more refined and focused professional development. Ultimately, tens of thousands of employees of Jewish organizations, and the hundreds of thousands of community members impacted by our work, all will benefit.

Stewarded by TBF Consulting and operated in partnership with Leading Edge, the program offers us the unique opportunity to learn from mentors, from experienced CEOs, and from other leadership experts; to analyze work-place scenarios and case studies; and to discuss best practices and strategies for success. The one-on-one professional coaching and the webinars and conferences with elite consultants throughout the year create a support system within the cohort that aids the development of a community of practice among participants.

The cohort’s first conference just concluded in Chicago. What were the highlights? For some, it was the opportunity to learn from thought-provoking authors in the areas of adaptive leadership and American Jewish history and politics. We explored a number of complex questions that any communal leader today must address: Do we have one community? What are the core messages that we deliver? How are the messages transmitted through our generations and across our geographies? For others in our cohort, the highlight was the guidance and toolkits offered by skilled practitioners in the fields of psychology of philanthropy, financial management, and nonprofit governance. For others still, the in-depth peer coaching or best practice materials brought the greatest insights. For each of us, the opportunity to discuss these issues with leading thinkers, along with the foundation leaders who host the program, was unprecedented.

But the impact of the program is not just in the practical guidance and support we receive. Impact also is felt through the spirit with which the program is being delivered. The organizers have, time and again, explained their intention to learn from this experiment with evaluation and feedback. And we are mindful of the way in which moral leadership has been articulated in the program implementation. Our second convening was slated to be held in North Carolina. But with the passage of that state legislature’s HB2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, reversing a Charlotte ordinance that had extended rights to gay and transgender people, and nullifying local ordinances that would have expanded protections for the LGBTQ community, the organizers determined that they would model what it means to exercise leadership. Our convening was moved to a different state as a result of this discriminatory legislation. We in the cohort, observing this shift, were made aware again of the sacred obligation to demonstrate Jewish values of inclusion and fair treatment for all through our stewardship of our organizations and work.

We are grateful for the incredible support of the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and other generous funders. We’re grateful to our own Boards of Directors and organizations, who see the benefit of their new CEOs participating in a forum that shepherds our learning and growing together.

And we’re grateful for a Jewish community – here, in North America – that believes in the future of Jewish leadership, invests in that future, and commits to it.

We are:

Tami Baldinger, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches · Robert Bank, American Jewish World Service · Dov Ben-Shimon, Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ · Jodi Bromberg, InterfaithFamily · Marci Glazer, Jewish Community Center of San Francisco · Danny Grossman, Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco · Michael Hoffman, The Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County · Abigail Porth, Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco · Stefanie Rhodes, Slingshot Fund · Todd Schenk, Jewish Social Service Agency of Greater Washington · Elana Silber, Sharsheret

Dov Ben-Shimon is the (fairly new) CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, NJ; Abby Porth is the (brand new) CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the San Francisco Bay Area.