HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Developing Leaders, Not Replacements
This third article in the series, by the founder of Moishe House, argues that the crisis lies not in the number of qualified leaders but in the lack of leeway that established organizations provide for young leaders to lead.
Particularly in the Jewish community, leadership development is often a narrow track built because those in current leadership positions are ready to move on; before they can do so, they feel they need someone to take over their exact roles.
To say that there is a crisis of leadership in the Jewish community would be taking a band-aid approach to a much larger issue facing our community. The problem lies not in a lack of future leadership; it lies instead in how we, as a Jewish community, do leadership development. In my work at Moishe House, I am constantly amazed at the quality and depth of leadership among Jewish youth. I actually think leadership is one of the huge strengths of the Jewish community. The crisis that I see is in the confusion between giving opportunities for real leadership versus trying to convince someone to do exactly what is currently being done but calling it leadership development.
Almost every long-standing Jewish organization has a leadership development track. In theory, its goal is to develop leaders, take an organization to a new place, provide fresh vision and perspective and ultimately have people follow this leadership. Unfortunately, leadership development is often built only as a pathway for following, not leading. Particularly in the Jewish community, leadership development is often a narrow track built because those in current leadership positions are ready to move on; before they can do so, they feel they need someone to take over their exact roles.
The trouble with this model is that none of the young leaders I know are particularly interested in those roles. It is not that they do not believe in the organization or want to develop themselves as leaders; it is that time and time again, their fresh ideas and new directions are blocked by the existing infrastructure. All too often, they learn that the organization is not actually looking for leaders, they are looking for replacements.
There is not a crisis in leading, there is a crisis in following. Not everything needs to be new, fresh or innovative, and a lot of what we are doing as a community is working. We have to be willing to give people the opportunity to lead, try new things and base decisions not on the past, but rather on the future.
Moishe House (http://moishehouse.org/) is a young organization with young leaders working both in the field and behind the scenes to promote a type of community building for people in their 20s that rarely exists in institutional settings. Our staff provides support to people around the globe who are dedicating their spare time to turning their homes into centers of Jewish life for themselves and their peers. With the support of both national and localized funders, Moishe House’s model has been overwhelmingly successful mainly because we get out of the way. We believe that residents living in Moishe House actually do know what will build the strongest community.
Of course, we provide a great deal of support and training, but ultimately we are letting the residents lead the way and doing our best to follow. This model of effectively following our residents is creating many opportunities for new leaders to emerge in a setting they feel comfortable in as well as launching them into the more institutional Jewish community of their city. It is our hope that these young adults who come into their own through Moishe House will be the leaders who will want to take on the next generation of leadership throughout the Jewish community. Although the question still remains, will the organizations be ready and willing to follow?♦
David Cygielman is founder and CEO of Moishe House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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