Sanctifying the Volunteer-Professional Partnership

In his book Lessons in Leadership, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, “A leader though he may stumble and fall, arises more honest, humble, and courageous than he was before.” It is not accidental that our organizational systems are dependent upon the partnership between volunteer and professional leaders. It is only through this sacred partnership that our work is sanctified and elevated, and it reminds us that we are engaged in the holy work of building a stronger Jewish world.


Through this partnership between a professional and volunteer (lay) leader, both leaders can grow their skillsets and knowledge base, and the ability to affect change is amplified. As in many relationships, a contract can be used as a means of setting agreed-upon parameters. A contract between a professional and a lay leader might include identifying the responsibilities and decisions that are professionally led and those that are decisions to be made by the board chair and the board. Other areas outlined in the agreement could include preferred methods of communication (email, phone or text), establishing regularly scheduled check-ins, and defining boundaries for personal time. Identifying situations that would require immediate communication, or areas that might be considered “gray” in terms of roles that would warrant a discussion regardless of who might ultimately “own” the final decision, is helpful.


While these are important items to address and agree upon, the lay-professional partnership can be enhanced in dignity and sanctity by drawing upon language from Jewish tradition. Just as Jewish organizations create missions and visions that embody the Jewish values they want to perpetuate, so too a partnership like this should be defined by Judaism and a values system, rather than a simple “secular” agreement. How much more meaningful would it be to elevate this agreement from a contract to a brit, a covenant?


A covenantal relationship is deeper and is defined by a shared understanding. It is recognized that decisions of one person directly impact the other person’s ability to be effective in their work. As in other covenantal relationships, such as marriage, we understand that the foundation of this partnership is built on trust. We empower our partner to be mindful of our needs and to make decisions that take these needs into consideration. Yes, there will be times when mistakes are made, but we trust that our partner will publicly support us through these challenges, protect us, offer guidance and share in the responsibility.


Some of the values that might definite a partnership within a Jewish organization or Jewish day school might include the following.




Fundamental to a sacred partnership is respect. Knowing that each partner enters into the brit with an agreement of mutual respect must include supporting each other and expressing perspectives, while also listening with a goal of understanding rather than just responding.




By definition, the leaders of a school or organization are responsible to ensure achievement of the vision and goals. This includes fiduciary responsibilities, management, development of strategic goals and evaluation of the achievement of these goals. With each leader taking ownership of their own areas of responsibility, a mutually supported model for success is created. Not only do leaders have a responsibility to the organization, they also have a responsibility to support their partner to enable them to do their work effectively.




How many times do we jump to a false conclusion or read into a message incorrectly? What if we retrained ourselves to assume good intention? In a covenantal partnership, each leader begins with the assumption that their partner is making decisions in the best interest of the organization. This means that when a controversy arises or concerning information is shared by a constituent, we begin from the place of wanting to learn and understand without rushing to judgment. We assume the best intentions even before we know the facts.




We are commanded through Jewish law to refrain from harmful speech and gossip. There is nothing more powerful than the words we share; they can elevate our work or they can corrode the sanctity of the partnership. Fundamental to a holy partnership is a commitment to ensuring confidentiality, not permitting or perpetuating gossip and using words to elevate rather than harm.




Judaism teaches that we are all shaped in the image of God. The role of a leader is not to be above those being led; rather, a leader is most effective when acting in service of others. Jewish tradition teaches that one of our greatest leaders is Moses, who is described in the Torah as “very humble, more so than anyone else on earth” (Bemidbar 12:3). When taking on a position of leadership, the question to reflect upon is how best we can “serve” as a leader. The most effective leaders and partners are humble.


In his book Management, Peter Drucker observes, “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” For the lay-professional relationship to be most effective, it must be defined by trust, a shared vision and clear role expectations. Each partner commits to understanding and respecting the other, creating a safe space for exploring new ideas, and advancing the vision and goals of the organization together as a team. A standard and mundane contractual agreement can be elevated to a place of sanctity by recognizing the holiness of the work being done when partnering to fulfill a Jewish communal mission.

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HaYidion Leading Together
Leading Together
Spring 2021