Leadership: Lessons From My Father

by Bracha Zuriel

We all need to learn to be leaders. As Thomas McGaffey states in The Courage to Lead, “Throughout our lives, to face the reality of this day, we all must learn leadership. … Everyone needs to have the tools of leadership at hand. Tools that will allow us to make a difference and to rally others to do the same.”

My father, Charles (Chuck) Abramovitz z’l was a successful businessman and a true lay leader, in the Dayton Jewish and general community. From 1977-1992, he was the CEO of Woolpert Consultants, a dynamic engineering and architectural design firm. In 2007, Woolperts sponsored a Legacy Program through which they conducted extensive video interviews with past CEOs to learn about their leadership styles. That video is a priceless gift to us.

The first time I watched the video, I had this uncanny feeling that I already somehow knew my father’s principles for leadership and had been trying to incorporate them into my own professional and personal life, even though I had never actually heard him articulate these points. Is this osmosis?

In honor of his yahrzeit on the 7th of Iyar, I share with you my father’s points. While we all might know them somehow, they remain highly relevant and reviewing them can focus us as we strive to lead in our professional, family and volunteer lives.

Relationships are key

  • “My mentor was my father”; The biggest value in the house was service to the community. His first and primary mentors were his parents. We are all mentors to others, even if we don’t articulate what we are passing on. Children, colleagues and employees are paying attention and learning from what we do.
  • Develop personal/professional relationships. First and foremost we need to develop personal relationships with the “clients” in our lives. These relationships are the basis on which we get things done. People do things for other people, people give money to people, and people are motivated by people.
  • Building relationships is the first stage of creating trust. Trust enables us to do what has to be done. Trust means that the other believes that you are acting in their best interest.
  • “Three legs to life, Family, Business/Work and Community.” All are based on relationships. Sometimes they are in conflict. You have to be comfortable with the choices that you make in finding the balance for yourself.
  • Assuming a lay leadership role in the community is a way to contribute which also builds your own individual growth and development. It is important for your work/business as well. Activity in the community increases your visibility, gives you a chance to create relationships with a wide variety of individuals and shows people that you care about the community.

Big Vision – Small doses

  • Have a big vision (but “keep it in your bottom drawer”). Need to bring people to join your vision, have to show people how it will benefit them. Share the vision in small doses. First rally your staff, the people closest to you, and then your “clients”. Allow the vision to unfold as people come on board.
  • Passion and enthusiasm are the tools to bring others to share your vision. Your passion and enthusiasm will draw others around you to become part of the endeavor.
  • Keep all the balls in the air – As you move others to your vision, listen to everyone, give them the feeling that you are working on their behalf.

Tips for your Organization

  • Peer reviews – Enable your organization to be reviewed by peers. A wonderful opportunity to learn from others both in doing the reviews and receiving the reviews.
  • Celebrate the victories, smachot. Involve the whole organization in celebrations – gives everyone ownership of success
  • Team culture – It may be easier to do it yourself but a team gives synergy to anything we do.

Qualities of a Leader

  • Know your own strengths and gather around you those who complement your strengths. (Who is the person that Chuck hired on the spot? the one who, when asked, “Where do you want to be in 10 “years?” responded, In your job.”)
  • Qualities of a leader: persistence, patience, trustworthiness, enthusiasm, passion, long term planning, ability to listen and then to “pluck out the best of the ideas and make it happen.”
  • Know when you have to change – try new things and bring others with you. Give those around you the independence to try new things even if they fail.
  • Flexibility – Every “client” is different and each needs something different. Value is in providing the service that the client needs.

Dor l’dor – From generation to generation – our true calling is to pass these principles to the next generation.

My father passed these principles on to us, not through words but through deeds and example. As we continually incorporate them into our leadership and our lives, let us strive to “make a difference” now and for the next generation.

Bracha Zuriel is the founding and immediate past director of the Central Area Consortium (14 Midwest and Texas communities) in Partnership2Gether with the Western Galilee. Living in Israel for over 30 years, she is currently working as a consultant and mentor to nonprofits.