Byachad: Synagogue Board Development
Welcome to Byachad: Synagogue Board Development. One of the signs of a vital congregation is its leadership. Prospective leaders and members may look at our building, programs, and brochures, but they will also take the measure of our leadership. Do our leaders seem to take joy in Jewish living? Does Judaism make our leaders’ board governance something special—something of which prospective leaders and members may want to be a part?
When I meet with congregations, the most common question I hear is “How do we develop new leaders?” A close second is “How do we engage more of our members?” Dr. Amy Sales, reflecting on her survey of congregations in Westchester County, New York, asserts that “the absence of a systematic approach to congregant development has far-reaching consequences.” Synagogue Board Development is an attempt to build board consensus about critical governance functions and to create a systematic plan to motivate and support leaders in developing new practices.
Not all of your board members may feel as if they are born leaders, but according to Dr. Ronald Heifetz, author of Leadership without Easy Answers, most can develop leadership skills by doing leadership tasks. In our tradition our rituals and observances help us learn by doing. We may not be comfortable with strategic theory, but we can learn to ask strategic questions. Dr. Arnold Eisen argues in Taking Hold of Torah that the genius of Leviticus is that it provides rituals we can do. The Israelites might not have understood all of the Jewish theology, but they could experience the holy through ritual practices. In Byachad I have focused on a few board rituals that I feel are particularly supportive of new leadership work.
Board teamwork should be designed to build more enduring relationships among lay leaders and between leaders and the staff. Teams need to focus on shared congregational goals so that leaders can provide the right direction, make the right assignments, and provide the right feedback. We need to encourage leaders to review their maps and take a fresh look at their leadership.
Corporate learning experts John Seely Brown and Estee Solomon Gray write in their introduction to Creating a Learning Culture that the twenty-first century requires that leaders have a collaborative mind and become a leadership team by doing leadership work together. “It takes a community to change a practice,” they say.1 To build capacity, we have to learn to read those maps together.
1 James G. Clawson and Marcia L. Conner, eds., Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Technology, and Practice. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 1–16.
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