Look Behind, Around, Above and Beside You: A Personal Leadership Journey
by Judith Erger
URJ Governance, Leadership Development & Architecture Specialist
Many years ago my children and I joined a truly welcoming congregation in our suburban community. The kids loved religious school and because they were still quite young, we reveled in attending the monthly family Shabbat worship services together. As a working single parent, my time and volunteer engagement was limited to the school book fair and a one-time offer to coordinate the Chanukah Bazaar. (Claim to fame – I developed the first ever documented bazaar, including a floor plan for vendors in the synagogue’s modest multi-purpose room, and a spreadsheet tracking disbursement and receipts.)
After three months of affiliation, I received a call asking if I would be interested in joining the board. (Was I being confused with another Judith??). The explanation of my responsibilities was, “Just show up once a month.” It wasn’t a substantive job description but it was one that fit my tight schedule. I showed up for a year of meetings (all 12) and was subsequently nominated to be the first Vice President/in-coming President for the following year. What a questionable tribute for someone who would still glaze-over at the sight of the budget; hadn’t yet read the bylaws; and didn’t know that every board member was pledging a minimum of $2000 for the silent phase of a capital campaign in the coming year!!!
My meteoric rise to leadership had a very limited tenure. The honor of being a member of the board was punctuated by perpetual embarrassment at not knowing enough to be effective in any way. The choice was mine to be the next president but instead I resigned, adamant that my inexperience would be a hindrance rather than a help.
20 years later, the same congregation is thriving and has initiated afour-part leadership development program; produced a leadership manualfor all new board members; and has developed a Covenant of Leadershipfor all in-coming board members. They, like a majority of ourcongregations, recognize that “managing the sacred” – being an effectiveleader within the congregation – requires knowledge, skill, experience,commitment, and vision.
It also requires being honest and discerning in efforts to identify andrecruit new leaders, and paying attention to training and retention. Onthe other side of the board table, the “child who does not know how toask” is not ready to be a leader and has a responsibility to say so.
John C. Maxwell, contemporary business and leadership development authorsuggests a path to successful leadership: “Look behind you: What haveyou learned? Look around you: What is happening to others? Look aboveyou: What does God expect of you? Look beside you: What resources areavailable to you?” I wonder: who within the synagogue is he speaking to?
What do you want your congregation’s leaders to know? What do you thinkis the best approach for a leader who does not possess the knowledge andskill to be an effective leader?
Spotlight on Leadership Transitions: This month, the URJ is highlighting resources to help congregations with leadership development and transition. Visit the URJ website for more information.