What are the skills or qualities that search committees hope to find in “out of the box” candidates that they can’t find in professionals who were trained and developed in the Jewish communal framework?
by David Edell and Dara Klarfeld
Our firm’s work has been dedicated to bringing new talent to the leadership of nonprofit organizations in the general and Jewish community. We have succeeded in recruiting new executive talent from within Jewish community organizations, other nonprofits, government and business. We sit at the tables as trusted advisors for those who are responsible for selecting the professionals who will guide, grow and represent their organizations. These decision makers are volunteer board and search committee members and when selecting their professional leader, they ultimately choose the person whose skills, experience, vision and personal qualities inspires confidence and enthusiasm about their organization’s future.
Recently, there has been much discussion about why volunteer leaders are so often interested in candidates from outside of Jewish communal professional systems – and many have weighed in on high-profile placements of lay-leaders turned professionals in the recent weeks. In our work, we are intimately involved in guiding and shaping the conversations which ultimately lead to these hiring decisions, and we know well that these decisions are usually made with a tremendous amount of attention to understanding both the work that needs to be done, and the capacity of the candidate to thrive.
It is time for those who are concerned about career pathways, professional development and executive leadership in the Jewish community to have the courage to convene those who are making the hiring decisions and learn about their perceptions, impressions and concerns. The development of professional training programs must consider the leadership needs and expectations of volunteer partners and what it will take to inspire followers.
There are important questions to be asked in this conversation with the hiring decision makers: What are the skills or qualities that search committees hope to find in “out of the box” candidates that they can’t find in professionals who were trained and developed in the Jewish communal framework? And furthermore, why don’t they believe that they will find these skills amongst those in the Jewish professional community? Is there an issue about how a new generation of volunteer leaders perceive and respect professionals who chose to work full time in the Jewish community? Do new volunteer leaders have new expectations of nonprofit executives and, if so, can we define them? How important are skills in working with volunteer leaders, boards and fundraising in selecting professional leaders?
How important is content knowledge, especially about the politics, networks and issues affecting Jewish community life? For those organizations that have made the choice of the “out of the box” candidate, has it met your expectations and can they define the differences in performance than with more traditional candidates?
We also need to engage our volunteer leadership partners in a candid conversation about funding professional development in Jewish professional systems. If board members want organizations to be driven and led in a more “business-like” manner, and if they believe that a different set of leadership skills and experiences are required to lead change in our organizations, why won’t they invest in their developing human resources the way that most companies and corporations do. Most of the books on corporate leadership begin with a quote suggesting that the value of an organization is dependent upon the CEO and professional talent that they deploy. They continue on to teach us that the most important investment a company can make is in developing its human resources. What does it say about the Jewish community if we bemoan the lack of a “pipeline” of future executives and then turn outside our organizations and systems in the hopes of finding those resources?
From our perch, we can see the tremendous value that new professionals being hired from outside of the Jewish system can bring – especially when it comes to fresh thinking and new approaches to strategic leadership. It is in everyone’s interest to invest in their learning and success as they change careers and join the Jewish community’s professional ranks. We need to learn from these new professionals about their experiences coming into the field in leading nonprofit organizations. Their experiences can help us think about how different education and training can help new executives from all professional fields address today’s challenges in new ways.
This recent hiring trend also teaches us that we need to create and fund new and different training for those who have devoted their careers to professional leadership in the Jewish community to better prepare them to meet the expectations of hiring decision makers. We also need to be more aggressive in recruiting those with different professional experience and rich Jewish commitments to consider positions in the Jewish community and then provide them with training and support, so that they can make the transition and contribute to the field.
The community will thrive when we have developed future executive multiple “pipelines” where candidates, regardless of their professional experience, will compete effectively for executive positions throughout the Jewish community. There will be considerable executive turnover in Jewish community organizations in the coming years. Lay leaders and professionals have a responsibility to provide education and support for those whose professional aspirations are to serve as CEO’s of our organizations and play leadership roles in meeting the challenges of the Jewish future.
David Edell and Dara Klarfeld are with DRG Executive Search in New York City.