Manning and Silverman on Leadership and the Now Generation

[part 2 of a conversation with Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning]

Change is in the air at 25 Broadway and across the landscape of The Jewish Federations of North America. In every conversation with senior leadership, you can sense an organization in motion. It’s as if someone yelled “fire” in a crowded theater. The recognition that you not only need to move, but time is not on your side.

As this GA opens, many challenges exist. While it appears the U.S. is emerging from the recent recession, the road upwards will have many pitfalls and the journey will not happen overnight. But just like with the economy, JFNA appears to be positioning itself to not only move forward, but to occupy the mantle of the pre-eminent Jewish organization on the North American landscape.

One of those challenges is creating a team of lay leaders that can face the future, threats and all, that can assist JFNA’s professional staff in moving forward. In our conversation, Kathy Manning – current chair of the executive and about to be installed board chair – lays out a three point plan for enhancing lay leadership:

  • great people are already involved on the local level – we need to develop ways to involve them nationally in a productive way;
  • there are a wealth of seasoned leaders around our communal world waiting to be asked to return and share their knowledge; and
  • most important there are younger people waiting to be involved.

Individuals from all of the above are involved in their local federations. They have a unique understanding of their own communities and the different dynamics that exist. They need to have a valued say in agenda.

And, a conversation on the future of The Jewish Federations is not possible without a serious discussion on the needs of young Jews and the relevance of the Jewish federation world to them. This is, perhaps, the biggest single challenge to be faced over the next several years. Not only by the federation system, but by most other organizations on our global communal landscape.

Silverman points out there are “robust and vital programs going on in communities across the country” singling out both Gesher City (Boston) and the Council of Young Jewish Presidents (New York) as examples. He considers these, and others, compelling programs, creating positive movement. But he also believes “there is significantly more opportunity. We need to begin a joint dialogue of learning; we need to invite into the tent and co-learn with each other.”

I’ve heard this before; it was a constant theme at the Nashville GA in 2007 that pretty much has rung hollow the past two years. But today, it sounds different. The words are spoken with a passion that comes only from understanding. Not solely from obligation. Perhaps, in Silverman’s case, it is his recent experience as head of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, where he was continually exposed to our future leaders and has a clear understanding of what The Jewish Federations must accomplish to keep this younger demographic in their tent.

In closing, I asked Silverman to imagine the time is a year later – the eve of the 2010 GA in Orlando. He is preparing his plenary presentation and needs to sum up the past twelve months. This is what he said:

“The Jewish Federations of North America have made significant strides in earning the respect and trust of the various federations and our key partners through our actions and the results we delivered.”

Manning and Silverman have together, as a team, set themselves a pretty high bar for the next twelve months. After my two hours of conversation, I wouldn’t hesitate to place a bet on their success.

[In case you missed part 1, here’s a link to A Conversation With Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman].