TalentCentrik: A Three-Part Series of What Went Right. The Big Ideas behind PLP and Hillel’s Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps

PLPThe Jewish community’s young talent pool is an embarrassment of riches. It is all of our jobs as a collective who care deeply about the future to be ensure that talent be consistently developed with excellence.

by Rhoda Weisman

This month the Professional Leaders Project (PLP) would have been nine years old but its founding vision and some of its methods are as relevant today as they were then, maybe even more so.

PLP’s mission was to turn Jewish leadership over to the next generation. Hundreds of the “best and brightest Gen Y leaders across the country were recruited, developed, coached, and placed in our most esteemed foundations, start-ups, legacy organizations, camps, schools and agencies. A critical number of PLP’ers are C-Suite professionals and executive level board members and more are almost there. They are networked like crazy and stickier than ever. Alumni and their friends help, hire, advise and fund each other all the time, even after their official organization closed four years ago. And, with the rise of social media and new technologies they are easier to reach than ever before.

It was created by the vision of its founders, Robert P.Aronson, Mandel Berman, William Davidson (z”l), Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Michael Steinardt/Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. I am very honored to have been PLP’s Founding Director.

This article is the first in the series to explore the ideas behind what went right with PLP and with its’ predecessor, Hillel’s Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corp. These ideas are the gems to be expanded as the need to be TalentCentrik – developing, placing and retaining talent in the Jewish community, continues to grow.

Article and Big Idea #1: There is no crisis of young leaders in Jewish life. The past is our future. PLP applicants were all referred and came as alumni from the fruits of our Jewish community’s labors in every sector – camps, campus, Israel trips, youth groups, schools, synagogues, federations, families and start-ups. They’re everywhere and they’re growing. They are Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, spiritual, just Jewish, those who defy categories and most importantly, mensches. Many of them are the children and grandchildren of those who are reading this now. They join thousands of other Gen Y and millenials who are smarter, savvier, more resourceful, networked and entrepreneurial each year.

Case in point: Jonathan Gerber and Ari Moss are leaders in their early 30’s who had became the closest of friends in PLP. Both were camp alumni from different movements. They bonded over an “ahah” moment while arguing Israeli politics, one seeing left and the other right.The PLP Coach granted them both validity and reframed their thinking from being adversarial to a source for creative new ideas. Sure enough they dreamed up a brilliant innovative initiative, Camp Moshava Malibu, that would utilize all the resources of a community center camp but for Modern Orthodox kids across the west coast. The results have been stunning. The camp succeeded far past anyone’s expectations – from the organized, liberal and modern Orthodox communities to the donors, campers and their parents.

Jonathan and Ari are only 2 of thousands of Gen Y alumni with lifelong Jewish memories and knowledge that should become today’s lay leaders. But the same is true for those who want to be professionals in our Jewish community. They all have university degrees, come from a culture where volunteerism and social responsibility are paramount and when asked if they want to contribute to Jewish life, the answer in my 25 years of developing talent, has been a resounding yes.

Case #2 The Birthright Israel Foundation is a premier organization that makes Birthright Israel trips possible. Its current COO and Vice-President Principal Gifts and Strategic Initiatives are Jenn Goldstone and Shira Hutt. Both are highly respected and deeply effective PLP alumni with histories of involvement in other Jewish organizations.

We know that being TalentCentrik, investing in young talent/alumni works in leaving a next generation of Jewish leaders. We see that PLP leaders are or will become the CEO, COO, ED, Board Chair and many other positions in new and legacy organizations but so are their predecessors, alumni from the Hillel Steinahrdt Jewish Campus Service Corps.

From 1994 – 2008, approximately 800 recent college graduates were recruited, selected, developed and supported to serve as the first engagement workers on campuses around the world. Like PLP alumni, JCSC alumni are just as diverse, maybe more so as their numbers are larger. And also like PLP alumni, they will trace much of their current leadership success in Jewish life to the investment they received while in their programs and to their vast social networks – both before “Facebook became Facebook.” A whole group of them are star Hillel Directors, synagogue rabbis, camp directors and the list goes on.

The Jewish community’s young talent pool is an embarrassment of riches. It is all of our jobs as a collective who care deeply about the future to ensure that talent be consistently developed with excellence. The Big Ideas in the second and third articles this series will address how this can be done based on proven successful methods and strategies. The next will specifically discuss how to create a TalentCentrik culture of development, ownership and partnership where everyone wins. And the third will detail how intensive mentoring and coaching is the foundation upon which most everything must stand. Not only does coaching and mentoring effectively grow young talent but it also brilliantly re-engages the skills, experiences and wisdom of our seasoned leaders to make a TalentCentrik culture possible. And like the Torah of our people, each leadership cycle will uniquely capture the needs and desires of its generation and make them wholly relevant.

Rhoda Weisman is a leadership coach and consultant specializing in strategic talent development in the workplace. She was the Founding Director of the Professional Leaders Project and the Chief Creative Officer of Hillel:, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in which she also served as the Founding Director of Hillel’s Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corp.