Winning Ways

by Brenda Gevertz

An important role for any professional association is to recognize its exemplary talent. This function not only brings honor to the recipient of the positive attention; recognition also serves the invaluable functions of setting exemplary standards, recognizing role models and sustaining talent. The Jewish Communal Service Association has a number of awards that recognize and honor exemplary talent, so it’s natural that we spend a considerable amount of time thinking about what it takes to be an extraordinary professional.

In the awards selection process we ask ourselves a lot of questions: Is it possible to become a star on one’s own? Can an individual in a negative environment rise above the din? Are there supports we can put in place and emphasize to help all professionals to do better? How can we honor more talented professionals, giving them the recognition and support they deserve?

The question “what does it take to be a winner?” is a key question JCSA asks as we look for the success factors and attributes of our best professionals. As JCSA reviews numerous nominations for our awards, we’ve learned some big picture lessons along the way. It’s not only intelligence, commitment and creativity that drive our winners – although these are fundamentally important – but each of these individuals also has had a support team or mentor who has helped her. To be fair, we have the privilege of reviewing the profiles of many stand-out professionals and whether or not any of these individuals wins the award, they have already distinguished themselves as winners. What we’ve found, after reading hundreds of nominations over the years, are the following:

  • Successful professionals are learners. They love to read, take classes and go to conferences. Ideas and information are exciting to them.
  • The winning professional is a teacher, giving guidance and support to colleagues, lay leaders and volunteers.
  • Winners have been inspired by role models and want to emulate these significant individuals.
  • Winners take risks and are enthusiastic about trying new ideas and methodologies. Moreover, they have the support of their agencies and supervisors in initiating new programs.
  • The boundaries between personal and professional involvement are permeable. Hosting Shabbat dinners, volunteering at a soup kitchen or tutoring Hebrew lessons are as much a part of the person’s life as is his work schedule.
  • The professionals at the podium have had coaches, mentors and a support team of colleagues that give them encouragement, feedback and invest in their success.

None of these attributes is particularly exceptional on its own. When we see a professional possessing all of these attributes we know we have a winner. When we see professionals with most of these qualities, we have to ask what it will take to bring them to the next level. When we have talented, enthusiastic and committed professionals willing to do their part, we can make them winners when we do ours.

Ultimately, we all share in the success of our winners.

Brenda Gevertz is Executive Director of Jewish Communal Service Association of North America.