This Is Real Life

[eJP note: Several recent articles have highlighted the leadership challenges that exist in our community, the role of how professionals are viewed and the almost here Boomer retirements – all subjects worthy of longer conversation.

The articles sparked our receipt of an email exchange between two federation professionals (names withheld for obvious reasons). Going forward, we invite readers, especially those in decision-making positions, to weigh in on the important issues raised in the various posts.]

I recently was in an email correspondence with a colleague in another Federation. I believe the email exchange was illustrative of a looming problem in Jewish communal service – a lack of leading professionals. Here is the exchange:

Working here is getting so frustrating. My colleagues and I are beaten down. How can you be in your position for so long without going crazy?

It upsets me to hear you talk like that.

It is so hard to work at my federation. Middle management has no say and no role to play. And we, my volunteers included, are at the whim of the CEO on who we can talk to and involve at the Federation. Amazing how many people we discard.

I feel lucky to have a good run here. Doesn’t seem like that is the norm. Most people just work for the paycheck. There is such a lack of leadership out there and no one seems to care.

I agree. Sometimes I think back to my first job in the field where we were a great team. Everyone was on the same page. Working hard with great results. It was a fun time.

It is harder and harder as people are less committed to the field. My Federation staff is mainly made up of people who just happen to live in this city. They like the job and the work they are doing. But are they really going “above and beyond?” Are they devoted to this work? It is not like when people would be recruited from all over the country to have the best and brightest.

The system is in trouble because we do not value people who want to do this for a living. I keep hearing how we need to hire people from outside the field. Really? So they can work here for a year and realize the work is not what they want to do?

We need to go back to recruiting and training people for this field. Give them real opportunities to grow and develop. At the same time, enable them to see the positive impact they are making and allow them to succeed.

Can the system be fixed? Is it too late? Does anyone really care?

All $64,000 questions.

We need to find people committed to this field and who care about this work. Plus, I want a leader with a clear vision of where the organization is heading and how to get there. Instead, too many bosses are going about their daily work with little interest and commitment to their professional team.

Lots of challenges, but the opportunities are there. I think?

I’m an optimist by nature. That optimism has been beaten down over the past few years. It is a HUGE issue for the Jewish world in general and for the professionals in specific. The organizations large and small are run by wealthy donors – who believe they know it all. I look around and am saddened by the leadership of my local agencies. And, is the rabbinic leadership any better? Is there anyone out there that you would say “I want to work for them?” Disappointing.

This is all about leadership. Where are the leaders? Even those who are CEOs are afraid to take risks in this day and age, so status quo becomes the norm. Change is risky, yet must be the norm. And if you challenge them, then forget it.

The field has lost its luster. I used to hear stories about “giants” in the field – Philip Bernstein, Bob Hiller, Ralph Goldman, Ernie Michel to name a few. Remember those names? Now some could say we have Nasatir, Ruskay, Shrage, but who are the others? And then outside of Federations there is Hoenlein and Foxman as examples. Soon these guys will retire. And now we have a world where volunteer leaders want “outsiders” from the field to lead, yet do those people really care about the mission? Or are they just trying to show their acumen as “leaders.” Curious if any of them have been successful?

Who will help maintain the history of the field?

What the f*** are they doing to replace themselves?

Unsure. But for now, I will keep my head low and stay out of the way.

Think this is any different than your organization? Guess again.