Rabbi Joanna Samuels is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program.  Joanna serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community www.advancingwomen.org.  She can be reached at joanna@joannasamuels.com

Recently, the small and busy staff of three at Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community participated in an online course organized by the Sloan School of Management at MIT.  One of the sessions was taught by Peter Senge, whose life’s work has been dedicated to how people, teams and organizations can work together effectively.  One thing he said helped me to better understand what I strive for in my leadership.

Leadership, said Senge, is about “creating a context for people to feel they can create the future.”

What I like about this idea is that leadership is not necessarily about what we are doing at the top of the organizational pyramid – it is about enabling everyone around us to have the agency to be creative, energized and empowered.   This is actually much harder work! 

This resonates for me in thinking about my years as a congregational rabbi – a job that is rife with the tension between being a superstar “public” persona and quietly helping others to take small steps towards deeper Jewish living.

But it also helps me to isolate what is most meaningful about my role at AWP.  One of my projects has been to bring small groups of women together who agree, over the course of 18 months, to attain the skills that they need to advance professionally, and to intervene in issues of gender inequity in their work places or communities.  Although we are at the beginning of this initiative, women in our cohorts are already working on everything from enhancing their visibility in their field to working to improve work-life practices in their organizations to correcting gender-based pay inequities.  I would like to think that having support, mentorship, and a structure in which to take on these challenges enables our participants to feel more present in creating their professional futures.  I am proud to be coordinating this initiative – and in that way, moving towards Peter’ Senge’s idea of what leadership really is.