by Scott Brown

After 30 years as a Jewish professional, I now know the secret weapon for the success of Jewish organizations. It is not money, vision nor new technology.

What is the secret weapon for current and future success? It is the investment in and retention of quality #2 professionals to assist in leading our organizations.

With the right person in place at the right organization with the right chemistry, that organization will thrive and its top professional will excel. There will be an immediate talent resource for the future. This topic is hardly ever written about or discussed in journals or at Jewish professional conferences. Yet, it may be the single-best investment strategy we can follow. To prove it, simply identify the highest performing Jewish organizations, and I believe you’ll find a strong #2.

Here are five ways that your organization can get the most out of its investment in a strong #2 professional:

  1. The role of the #2 professional is the most difficult and crucial within any organization. This person often oversees internal operations, enabling the top professional to focus outward. As a result, the quality of supervision provided by this critical role determines the output of other employees and ultimately success or failure executing the organization’s mission.
  2. If we really invest in training this talent, we’d have a secure pipeline for the future. Too often, these talented second-in-commands are relegated to “cleaning up” the leftovers that chief executives either don’t want or don’t know how to handle. This is not a formula for success nor a strategy based on developing your key human asset.
  3. Let’s quit collapsing everything into the job of the #2 professional in order to save money and balance the budget. While stretching responsibilities can be a good thing, stretching to a breaking point is not organizationally smart. Also, doing so does not allow an organization to maximize the unique strengths possessed by the #2 professional. This, in turn, leads to burnout, stress and inferior results. We need to either make decisions about what we will stop doing, or be more realistic about what this person can accomplish and deliver with excellence.
  4. We have done a woeful job of succession planning. If we truly invested in this special cohort, we’d have the answers to unlocking the organization’s true potential for success. Imagine if there was an annual gathering to bring together our most talented #2 professionals with the purpose of sharing successes, challenges and best practices, giving them an opportunity to learn about various career options including a program that allowed them to move within the Jewish communal world on a planned and designed career track. We’d also be able to move talented high-potential professionals from one organization to the other.
  5. Reward them so we can retain them. We need to pay competitive salaries. But, “payment” can also come in non-traditional forms such as providing quality supervision, making available professional development funds and expert coaching, offering special training programs and ensuring that there are dynamic and deep Jewish learning opportunities provided to help these leaders hone their own Jewish voice, confidence and pathway.

I offer these perspectives having been the #2 and #1 professional at Jewish summer camps, JCC’s and Hillel. My perspective is both local and national. While I am proud of what Hillel does to develop our top internal talent by creating training programs for our various professional cohorts, I recognize that we still haven’t done enough to focus on our #2 professionals. Time and money constraints also contribute to our lack of enough attention on this important cohort.

Here’s a big idea. Imagine if every Jewish organization with sufficient professional staffs and budgets devoted the financial resources necessary to hire a talented #2 professional (if they didn’t already have one). The organization would be so much stronger. The director would be able to spend the needed amount of time on both their internal and external work. We’d have our perfect pipeline for hiring future directors who we got to know over the years as we groomed them for success.

If we are taking a look at bottom-line results and developing future Jewish professional leadership, I’d make investing in the #2 professional a # 1priority.

Scott Brown is the Executive Vice President for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. His email address is: sbrown@hillel.org.

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