My Challenges With Growth

by David Cygielman

I still remember when our then-newly appointed board chair, Mike Nissenson, came to visit our office for the first time. He thought it was a joke, and quickly asked, “Do you guys need to work from my house? You might be more comfortable there.” But we didn’t know any better and thought our sublet room in the massage and therapy complex was the big leagues. Other than having to be absolutely quiet with no calls allowed from 11am-4pm (during the neighbors’ massage appointments) we loved it. Moishe House was growing, we all knew everything that was happening in every corner and it felt like a really exciting project.

Since 2006, Moishe House has quickly evolved from a little project to a large-scale international organization. We have maintained the start-up essence but the needs and profile of Moishe House have drastically changed as we not only grow but also mature. In full transparency, this has not always been easy. I loved managing the entire team, knowing all the residents and having my finger on the pulse of every little detail. Now, this just isn’t feasible given our size, and while I know our growth is ultimately best for the organization, it can be hard for me personally.

Some changes have been great: I now enjoy being able to stay in hotel rooms with private bathrooms and I deeply appreciate that so many more people have become part of our work. And although it is easy to conceive of the idea, actually loosening the apron strings and giving space for others to create and build is a personal challenge. In Hebrew, it is known as Tztimzum, which I first learned about many years ago through a convening by the same name hosted by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, but it has only been in the last two years that I have really learned its true meaning.

There is a certain excitement around being the person who people come to when they have a problem and actually being in a position where you can solve it. During the first phase of building and growing Moishe House, I was the center spoke and from an ego perspective, it was very satisfying. As time has passed and we have grown our program, budget, board and staff, this has been a huge and important shift. Now, I do not know most of the residents in Moishe House, I do not have a hand in every decision made, I cannot attend every single in-person convening (which are happening monthly) and the majority of the staff do not report to me. For the organization, it is a good thing. For me, it is a challenge.

There are areas where I am still deeply involved in the day-to-day work but for most of what we do, the more involved I get, the harder it is for other people to do their jobs effectively. For an organization I helped to start, it is a real gut check to come to the reality that my direct over-involvement can impair our progress. At first, it was a bit sad for me to see this happen, but over time, it has opened up new doors by forcing me to seek advice and mentorship on how to best maximize my shifting role in Moishe House and focus on our longevity as an organization. I am still in this process but making myself take a step back has immediately allowed me to see and appreciate the wonderful team in place.

As Moishe House has developed, there have been so many highlights but it is also important to look at what goes into the process. Amongst the growth and increased impact has also been struggle. In this instance, it is a personal struggle but as every organization is only as strong as those who support it, they do go hand in hand. With Thanksgiving just behind us, I am thankful for those on our board, staff, residents and friends who have helped guide me through this personal transition and leadership development.

David Cygielman is the Founder and CEO of Moishe House.