Investing in Leaders

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

By David Cygielman

The Jewish community has made a big bet. In the past five years, we have seen a huge surge in the investment of fellowships and convenings designed to train and support leaders. Talent development is core to building a strong Jewish community, so logically, this is a good communal strategy. The concept of bringing people together to meet one another, learn together and develop new ideas that can bring the Jewish community into the next decades is important, but we are falling short of the finish line more often than not.

Since starting Moishe House more than a decade ago, I have had the tremendous benefit of being invested in as a leader in the Jewish community. There was no way that at the age of 24, I was prepared to be the CEO of an organization. I am not even sure if I was prepared for an entry-level position. But, with the support of many investments from the Jewish community, I continue to glean so much from the people I meet and many of the programs I am fortunate enough to participate in. I know the importance of investing in leaders and I worry that with this wave of fellowships and leadership development programs, we are investing far more in their infrastructure and implementation than the leaders themselves.

What would it look like if we had fewer fellowships and convenings, but a much deeper and bigger investment in the participants of those that did exist? To maximize their impact and success, we must ask ourselves, “Are we giving the participants enough resources to really drive their success?” For me, the answer is usually “no.” As a Jewish community, I know we are serious about investing in leadership, so let’s actually invest in it! By selecting and bringing together leaders for fellowships but not giving them the necessary, and costly, resources they need to continue their work once they return home, we are not doing enough to actually accomplish our goals.

In order to successfully invest in leaders, let’s ensure that more money is invested in their implementation of stretch projects and ideas once they return than we invest in the formation of the convening or fellowship themselves. While the Jewish community is very robust, there are so many insights we can learn from outside the constructs we have created. To this day, I still use what I learned from spending two weeks at Willow Creek Church, a mega church just outside Chicago. In my professional development, I was afforded the opportunity to spend two weeks learning and participating in order to bring back lessons we could apply to Moishe House. Before launching PJ Library, the leaders at the Grinspoon Foundation spent real time visiting and learning from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Far too often, we provide the training, the networking and the line for their resume with little to no resources for leaders to then actually go and lead. In addition to actual gatherings and trainings, leaders need financial resources to continue their professional development and programmatic dollars to run with their ideas.

We have good examples to serve us. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation provides funds for significant funding for leadership advancement opportunities as part of its 18-month leadership development program for Jewish professionals. ROI Community also provides grant opportunities for members of the ROI Community. A member of our own team at Moishe House returned from ROI with an idea for training young leaders on how to run peer-led Jewish learning retreats and through ROI funding, was able to pilot the program. The program, Retreatology, has now expanded and led to his promotion.

MAOZ in Israel is another great example. Following a vigorous selection process, the fellows are invested in for more than a year, including two weeks in Boston studying at Harvard Business School. In the larger space of fellowships, we see the strength of Echoing Green, Acumen, Ashoka and others. All of these have a common theme: They provide their fellows with real implementation funding beyond the training and gatherings themselves.

I propose that we commit to following three simple principles:

  1. Any new fellowship program invests at a minimum as much directly in the professional development of fellows outside of the convenings and trainings as they are investing in the actual experience itself;
  2. Any new fellowship program provides a minimum of $10,000 to each Fellow for a stretch project or program to exercise their new-found skills and excitement, and;
  3. Any new fellowship program gives the resources needed for fellows to immerse themselves in programs and with leaders beyond the Jewish community who have similar models and vision.

If we were to follow these principles, we would narrow the field of fellowships to those that are most able to truly invest in leaders and reduce the resources we are spending on bringing people together without the proper resources for them to actually lead. And, in turn and in time, we will see stronger Jewish leaders bringing us a stronger Jewish future.

David Cygielman is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Moishe House.