From the Foundation Team

The Humanity of Leadership: Reflections from a Leadership Training Retreat

– by Jeff Tiell

March 1st, 2018

Who is a leader?

We hear a lot about leadership these days. More tactically, what is leadership comprised of? What experiences help shape leaders and leadership? And what traits and characteristics do those leaders have?

In my conversations with nonprofit program providers, executives, and funders, I hear them asking these questions of themselves a lot. Namely – “How Do I Lead?”

These are questions with which I also wrestle. In searching for a community to do this wrestling with I found Rockwood. Or maybe Rockwood found me. Rockwood is a leadership training organization that focuses on six core practices – purpose, vision, partnership, resilience, performance, and personal ecology. Its training is meant to “strengthen your leadership to help you create more effective, sustainable, and humane lives and organizations.”

“Effective” and “Sustainable.” Great and great! These are two words I hear and use a lot in my professional life as a representative of a grantmaker. But “humane?” Interesting! But yes, that’s right, a leader is leading when she or he helps to create and foster more humane lives and organizations. We are leaders when we enable our shared humanity, when we lift up the humanness of our community. As a Jewish professional this ideal is especially relevant, as I see it as foundational to my work and the work of my colleagues. We are and our work is – at a basic level – about bringing forth and helping people to develop as human beings and to figure out what it simply means to be. This work is manifested at day schools, at Jewish summer camps, in emergent Jewish communities, and in so many other environments.

Throughout my time at a week-long Rockwood retreat, the words of Pirkei Avot echoed through me, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Our field needs more leaders who engage more people to create more humane lives. To this end, the Foundation invests in multiple initiatives, including the new Fund for Jews of Color Field Building, which is designed to develop and train leaders and which presents an especially timely opportunity. Infused with resources from the Leichtag Foundation, Walter and Elise Haas Fund, and the Jim Joseph Foundation, the pooled fund, with its targeted focus, is positioned to create more shared humaneness. It elevates what brings us together as Jews, building bridges where differences may otherwise keep people apart, and shining a spotlight on the ways in which we as a Jews share meaning and faith across race and ethnicity. This work helps to create and build humane lives and organizations, because, organizations that are humane must be inclusive.

On the last day of my Rockwood retreat, we discussed what we would take with us from the retreat into our homes and places of business. In thinking about the lessons and learnings during the week, I continued to return to the notion of being a model for others. This is plainly what being a humane leader is to me—showing by example, letting deeds speak louder than words, and being the change one wishes to see in the world, both in life and work. The investment in the Fund for Jews of Color Field Building is part of the Foundation’s own learning journey and models desired change. Equally as important, the beneficiaries of the Fund’s investments are emerging leaders who will create more humane lives and organizations in the months and years to come.